The Summer MBA Sustainability Consortium – 5 Questions with Dr. Scott R. Herriott from Maharishi University of Management

Business schools now offer a wide range of course options for students wanting to learn more about sustainability. But what to do if there is a course at another school that interests you that isn’t yet offered at yours? Dr. Scott R. Herriott, Professor and Co-chair of the Department of Business Administration at Maharishi University of Management proposed a solution in the United States, the Summer MBA Sustainability Consortium.

The concept is simple; each school may submit their summer MBA courses on sustainability into a pool that all students can take, both in the classroom or online. I recently had the chance to speak with Dr. Herriott about this new project, which now involves 8 participating schools; Bainbridge Graduate Institute, University of Denver, Marylhurst University, The University of Maine, The University of Vermont, Seattle Pacific University, Brandeis and Maharishi University of Management.

1. Why did you start the consortium?

I spent some time looking through the Aspen Institute “Beyond Gray Pinstripes” survey of 135 universities that teach sustainability at the MBA level. Among the information they published was the list of courses taught at each institution. As I surveyed the list, I saw some interesting course titles and thought that it would be consistent with the spirit of sustainability itself (whole systems thinking, and so on) to see if these universities would want to cooperate in offering the richness of their own curricula to students at other universities. I limited the cooperation to summer courses, so there would be no fear that one institution might poach students from another.

2. How did you go about creating it?

It took a bit of work. I contacted the professors of different courses and invited them to participate in the Consortium. Of these, 8 responded favorably, some quite enthusiastically. I designed a catalog for the consortium, which listed all the courses that would be open to students at any member institution. We also created a one-page Consortium Agreement, by which any student could use their home institution’s financial aid to pay for a course at a host institution. That agreement showed the deans exactly how the consortium would work financially and operationally. There is no membership fee to participate in the Consortium.

3. What were some of the challenges, and how did you overcome them?

The database construction and emailing didn’t take as long as I thought it would. However, organising a consortium like this is rather like organising a social club in a highly stratified society, because academia is quite stratified. No one wants to be a part of a group of people of lower status than themselves, which creates a chicken-and-egg problem. Most professors and deans, though fortunately not all, will want to know who else is involved before they make their decision to participate. So I elicited “tentative” approval from several schools and got unequivocal interest from others. Then I published a “draft” of the catalog that had all 8 logos together. I sent that draft catalog to the deans, so they could see who else would be participating. Another problem is that I felt each school should publish in the catalog the tuition charge for each of their courses. To my surprise, this revealed that there was a wide range of tuition charges for courses. There is no easy solution to that. I can only hope that this does not present a competitive problem that would impede participation in the Consortium next year.

4. Moving forward, what are your hopes for the project?

We got a late start on the 2012 summer season, so only 2 institutions had courses ready for this summer, and many students already had summer plans. With adequate notice, all members will have courses to offer, so the Summer 2013 Consortium Catalog should offer a very nice array of courses, both on-site and online. I also hope that the Consortium might become a vehicle for a summer conference on sustainability, at which members, and others, can discuss MBA-level education in sustainable business.

5. What would you recommend for other schools thinking of doing a similar project or working with other schools on a common project?

The consortium has to be organised around a sense of common mission, a sense of collegiality or comradeship that can overcome the competitive tensions of being in the same “industry.” Sustainability is such a mission. It is almost a movement. But one person has to do the work to get it started. I was not going to wait for a committee decision, though going forward I will gladly accept input and advice from the group. My advice then is to start it, and then let it go.

Courses this year that are part of the Summer MBA Sustainability Consortium run from June to August and include Environmental Law, Sustainable Technologies, Green Investing, Metrics for Sustainability, Principles of Sustainability, Strategic Leadership in Sustainability and Sustainable Marketing. The full details about the courses are available through their catalogue online.

What are your experiences creating and/or working as part of a collaborative project with other schools? Share your thoughts in the comments area below.


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