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Torn Between Two Paradigms: A Struggle for the Soul of Business Schools

By Chris Laszlo, Robert Sroufe, Sandra Waddock –


Business schools today are torn between two paradigms, with a resulting struggle about the nature and value of both teaching and research. Today’s dominant neoliberal paradigm pervades the vast majority of schools with its narrative of profit maximization, free markets, and limited government. Its proponents view competition, growth, and consumerism as the defining characteristics of society. By contrast, the emerging and inchoate “economy in service to life” narrative aims at freedom and dignity for all achieved through shared well-being on a healthy planet. Business schools are increasingly caught between these narratives or paradigms. This results in confusion for students, tensions among faculty members, and discontinuity in institutional leadership when successive deans oscillate from one to the other.


The neoliberal narrative

Today’s dominant business paradigm derives from the neoliberal narrative (Waddock, 2016) articulated in the wake of World War II by a group of economists, historians, and philosophers at a mountain retreat in Switzerland called Mont Pèlerin (Mont Pèlerin, undated; Hartwell, 1995). This paradigm is now deeply embedded in business practice. It pervades the news cycle, and shapes how business leaders, faculty and students perceive the purpose of economic activity. It also permeates business schools’ teaching and research agendas, and is most obviously manifest in economics and finance curricula. Its tenet underpins virtually every course including business in society, ethics, organizational behavior and strategy, often without explicit recognition of that fact.


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