Management is too important not to debate – University of Leicester

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 16.35.11Getting engaged in sustainability, CSR, and responsible management goes beyond putting key words into your mission statement or promotional material. It is about creating a culture on campus, opportunities to bring together different disciplines, and a space to discuss and debate these important issues. At the University of Leicester, School of Management, in the United Kingdom, they have done just that with their guiding axiom “management is too important not to debate,” I recently had the chance to speak with Stephen Dunne about Leicester’s School of Management’s approach to responsible management.
When did the University of Leicester School of Management begin looking at responsible management and sustainability?
The City of Leicester has long taken a pioneering approach to environmental sustainability. Back in 1990 it was designated Britain’s first Environment City by the Royal Society for Nature Conservation while in 1992 it was invited to send delegates to the very first UN Earth Summit. The University of Leicester’s School of Management was inaugurated around this time, in 1989, initially as an off-shoot of the economics department. Whatever was in the air back then has clearly lingered long! For, just as the City of Leicester has continued to set the standard for many UK-based sustainability initiatives, so too, Leicester’s School of Management, with its emphasis on “Critical Management Studies,” continues to place environmental concerns at the curricular and pedagogical forefront. In 2007, the University established its dedicated environment team and formalised its sustainability strategy – something which continues to be subjected to rigorous and constant review. It was also around this time that we in the School thought it would make sense to sign up to the PRME Secretariat initiative, as a means of acknowledging the fact that an abiding concern with the extra-fiduciary responsibilities of management animates all of us here, from the fustiest of faculty, right through to the freshest of freshmen!
Briefly describe the University of Leicester School of Management’s approach to sustainability.
The School’s guiding axiom is “management is too important not to debate.” This means we seek to attract researchers and teachers from across the social and natural sciences, as well as the humanities, in order to put management into its broader ecological context. In other words, the nature and purpose of management, as a recent blog entry from the Head of Department, Professor Simon Lilley put it, is too important to be left to managers alone. In it he writes, “Management is a multi-faceted phenomenon and so it requires a multi-disciplinary approach.” The approach we take here deliberately recruits insights into the nature of management from a wide range of areas such as quantum physics, and art history.
How do you encourage this kind of debate with your faculty and engage them in these discussions?
There are several ways that we do this. One is, as introduced above, our blog called, “Management is too Important not to Debate,” which we started in October 2013. We now publish weekly, which is terrific. The blog provides a space for faculty and students from different disciplines to come together to share insights on management, many related of course to sustainability and responsible leadership. A few of our blog posts have generated a good amount of discussion with faculty and students. The Head’s inaugural entry was one. One of our PhD students wrote an interesting piece on sustainability reporting earlier this year, and last year one of our faculty wrote a piece around emergent water markets. There is also a piece on a 3-day event we put on regarding the nature and purpose of the corporation including a video-recording.
Additionally, we hold weekly research seminars, which have been going since at least 2004 when I first arrived here. They are organised on Wednesday afternoons, when the majority of colleagues are freed from teaching, and they are attended by faculty and research students alike. Here, faculty have a chance to share the research they are doing in responsible management, CSR, and sustainability, and generate a discussion around it. More often than not, they are hotly contended affairs – Leicester’s external speakers rarely leave the Ken Edwards Building unscathed! Not that we are a nasty bunch, rather, we are a group that sees academia as anything but a neutral affair, particularly when it comes to matters concerning business and management.
What have been some of the challenges you have had in getting faculty more engaged in these topics.
Thankfully, the majority of colleagues are very much signed up to the “management is too important not to debate” axiom. The main barrier to engagement, to put it simply, is time and resources, or rather the lack thereof. Many colleagues tell me they would love to do more for the blog, for PRME, or for the School more generally, but that they simply don’t have the time anymore. This complaint seems to be sector wide, where many academics, indeed many academic departments, are having to do more with less. This sort of experience reverberates outside of Higher Education, of course, and a sense of injustice reverberates too. Many senior university managers, as has been recently documented, have excused themselves from the belt-tightening demands of austerity that they hypocritically expect of others. Thankfully, at Leicester, we are dedicated to the cause – this counts for a lot. Other schools will surely suffer to generate the enthusiasm if it isn’t already there in abundance.
What’s next for University of Leicester?
In an increasingly challenging funding environment for higher education in the UK the School is actively thinking about how best to maximise its impact on organisations of all sorts, via expanding the ways and means that it can engage with them directly. It has explored garnering the Small Business Charter to facilitate work with small and medium sized enterprises, and is also looking at other ways in which it can help students in the school to deploy what they have learnt in supporting organisational improvement. We are also in the process of developing a dedicated specialist track in Ethics and Sustainability, and are hoping to launch a new module on Corporate Social Performance to the Masters and MBA Degree suite of options, to compliment the existing suite of modules dedicated to ethics, sustainability and management responsibility.

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