Stanford, Yale, Ross, Duke Deans Talk About Race & The B-School Classroom

Bill Boulding, dean of the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, speaks during the Race & Business Education Deans Panel hosted October 13 by Michigan Ross

Wooten: How should we think about DI (diversity and inclusion) issues as global business schools, when some of the issues, specifically those around racial justice, are local?


It might be clear from my accent, but I am Italian, and I arrived in the U.S. has a dean a little more than a year ago after 25 years in London. So for me, the way I see it is the two sides, global and local, really reinforce each other — they’re very important on both sides.

First of all, being global means having to deal with incredible diversity, which is not only race, it is religion, it is culture; so I feel, how can we be a global business school and equip our students to be global if we are not trying to tackle that diversity, equity, racial justice in the country in which we are all based? I feel it would be hypocritical go out to deal with this diversity global but not in our own country. Right now in the UK they’re talking about problems with racism in the Met Police in London; in France, in my country, Italy, there are longstanding discussions of racism. You see right now that I still look at the news.

To me, it is very humbling here in the U.S., I’m working with everybody I can, to think about what to do, because as other people have mentioned, there are critical systemic issues that we need to address, and we can’t address it all, and they’re very difficult, and we need to think hard. At the same time, I find it very humbling to think that in completely different systems, different sets of institutions, different history, different everything, and yet we still find racism. So that is telling us how complex the problem is, and we have to learn by looking at other systems — where other systems failed — so when we are tackling racism they can make our thinking about these stronger.


Yale School of Management Dean Kerwin K. Charles

Yale School of Management Dean Kerwin K. Charles

Let me echo Bill’s words that I look forward to working with all my fellow deans to work on this and other important issues. To answer your question, looking at racial justice, undoubtedly there is a local flavor to it. It resonates particularly in the United States for historical reasons that all of us are familiar with: the inhuman institution of slavery. The dehumanization of black lives that long survived slavery’s formal abolishing, these are all issues that we are familiar with.

America has soft power; the power of the media and culture and its reach is simply enormous. I think one has to have grown up outside America to truly appreciate the extent of this power. What happens in America is followed by the entire world — it greatly influences thinking, and events, everywhere.

For decades, and to some extent even today, the relentless negative portrayal of Black people in media and literature influenced how people in many other countries, many of whom had no direct contact with Black people, view Black people. And it has resulted today in the significant casual racism that Black people face when they travel in Asia and elsewhere.

But equally, that soft power has the ability to do enormous good, as we have seen with the women’s rights movement, the gay rights movement, many other movements in America. George Floyd’s brutal murder made global headlines, but so did the Black Lives Matter protest that followed almost immediately, and they have sparked very similar soul searching and protest movements for marginalized and brutalized groups across the globe, from the Indigenous Lives Matter movement in Australia to movements in India and elsewhere.

So what I’m trying to say is, DI issues and racial justice in particular are not local but they are global issues, and as global business schools, even as we train students for leadership in a more globalized world, decisions have to be an integral part of the education part of the reasons that Francesca articulated so well. One small example is our most recent effort at Stern. Every single entering student in our undergraduate program, MBA program, and executive programs all take the Intercultural Development Inventory assessment to gauge cultural competence, and every student has assigned a coach to interpret their assessment, and to provide a plan for growth. I think this is almost an essential part of creating better leaders for tomorrow.


I’d like to echo the comments of my fellow deans here and thank Scott and Michigan for putting on this important event. I’m delighted to be on the panel with my peers.

So your question touches on or asks explicitly how we are to conceive of the diversity conversation in a global context when so much of anti-racism and related matters are local. In thinking about anti-blackness, for example, it has a decidedly local and American flavor; as has been pointed out, there are issues of diversity and racial heterogeneity elsewhere. But the thing that generates large national and international attention is the anti-Black, anti-racist movement in the United States. How do we as a global business school deal with that, given its local character? It seems to me there are three reasons — at least three — if we focus on the representation issue, that we bring students here from elsewhere, and the bringing of students from elsewhere into our community or into our wherever we are, be it Palo Alto or New Haven or Ann Arbor, means that those students must engage with this matter, in, for example, their classroom experience.

And so one is in a class. A question comes up, one notices that one’s peer doesn’t respond or is discomfited by what one says, thus and so. And so, precisely because we are global, the likelihood of that kind of innocent, misinterpretation, accidental offense giving and the like, means that we have to attend to this issue in an important way for students brought into our midst — because it will affect their educational experience. Our failure to address it thoughtfully means that it will affect the lived experience of the students of color with whom they come into contact. They’re meeting these people at the coffee shop, they’re having pizza and beers with them, they are talking about their projects together. Insensitivity, ignorance, unfamiliarity with these matters raises the likelihood of an unpleasant, albeit unwitting, but an unpleasant interaction, which can affect the experience of their peers.

There’s also this. So we go and we recruit and say, ‘Look, you should come to my school to receive MBA training.” And we’re successful at that and we get people to come. And they come. And many of them return home. It is this returning home piece that is often prominent or top of mind for me. Because when they return home they take with them much of what they learned and picked up here — and not only in the finance class, or in the OB class. Indeed, that might be secondary. They take with them the kind of tacit signals they receive: how we interact with each other racially, how we deal with this matter. And to the extent that they are not well-informed and exposed to the best ideas that have been thought about these matters, they take bad ideas about American race back home.

But it’s worse than that. It’s worse than that because these people are in general not returning themselves to homogeneous communities. There is the issue of race — or class or caste or whatever — where many of them come from. And so we have a chance during their two years, three years here to perturb, to disrupt, the bad notions they may have had about type and race and caste. And we are failing morally, it seems to me, if we do not engage with it in a productive way during their two years in our midst. In a way, our being global, the fact that we’re global, raises the ante, raises the stakes in ways I just described for dealing with this matter in our local context. So that’s my view about the global-local tension.

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