Guest op/ed: Cal Poly’s international business program closed, to detriment of students
By Steven Mintz on September 30, 2011
By a vote of 34 to 17, the business faculty at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo voted to end its separate international business concentration in the Orfalea College of Business.
The vote comes after a year of acrimonious debate about the future of the program. On one side were a few international business teaching faculty who fought to keep the program. On the other was the Undergraduate Programs Committee which, quite frankly, became fed up dealing with what the committee felt were difficult and uncooperative faculty. The committee cited a lack of interdisciplinary faculty involvement in the program and the failure to adequately assess learning goals in the degree concentration.
Prior to the vote, a faculty forum took place at which one representative from each side presented the case for keeping or ending the program.
I spoke on behalf of the minority — the faculty who wanted to keep the program. I became involved because I teach a course in international accounting and I am a strong supporter of comprehensive international business education.
Some faculty argued that elements of international business are covered in existing courses. While that may be true, and this is a good thing, we are in 2011 and the U.S. is on the verge of losing its position as the global economic leader.
In a short period of time, we have witnessed the emergence of China as a world economic leader — India is on the same track — and Brazil and other green-energy producers are becoming leaders in developing alternative energy sources.
A separate international business program sends the message to students and employers that we value a global perspective in our curriculum.
I made the following points at the faculty forum:
• Cal Poly needs to meet the accreditation standards of the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business. The AACSB concluded in a recent study of internationalization of the business curricula that “It is a foregone conclusion that businesses expect business schools to prepare graduates for the global environment.”
• Cal Poly students want the choice of a separate international business curriculum (11.4 percent of business students declared international business as a concentration last year.)
Employers want Cal Poly students to have a strong background in international business to support their possible movement into international markets.
• U.S. colleges and universities have seen a tremendous increase in international students studying business and engineering in recent years. Evidence suggests the two fields’ overwhelming popularity is driven by students’ views of which U.S. programs will offer them the best preparation for a good job.
About 40 percent of the nearly 700,000 international students in the U.S. last school year were in either business and management or engineering, according to the latest statistics from the Institute of International Education (www.iie.org).
According to an email sent by business school Dean Dave Christy to the school’s faculty after the vote, “… junior and senior students currently in the [international businesss] concentration will be enabled to complete it.”
Christy said he “will ask the advising center to indicate to first and second year students that [international business] will not be a concentration option for them, pending appropriate review by the Academic Senate. I will ask our Senate Caucus [and faculty representatives] to work with the Senate on that process, and I will consult with Senate Chair.”
The vote to end the international business program at Cal Poly was motivated by politics and not the interests of our students and employers, the main stakeholders of the program.
The fact that an administrative body cannot get along with discipline-based faculty is not a good reason to end a popular, important business curriculum option.
To be fair, these faculty could have, and should have, respected the position of the Undergraduate Programs Committee and gone the extra mile to provide what was asked for on a timely basis, even if they felt the requests were unreasonable.
From my perspective, this issue has brought out the worst in academic governance, where decision-makers on one side take actions based on perceived problems with the leaders of “the other side,” and use issues such as assessment to rationalize their decisions.
Rather than solving the problem like adults, the faculty chose to stand by their biases and kill the international business program. The students and potential employers are the losers in this process.
• Steve Mintz is a professor of accounting in the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He blogs about business issues at www.ethicssage.com and www.workplaceethicsadvice.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.