B-Schools Find Inspiration Across Campus

Trans-disciplinary initiatives at business schools.
B-Schools Find Inspiration Across Campus

The session "Creating and Managing Cross-Disciplinary Partnerships Outside the Business School" was facilitated by Srilata Zaheer of the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management and Thomas Froehlicher of the KEDGE Business School. Deans gathered into small groups to discuss trans-disciplinary initiatives at their own institutions, then shared ideas with the whole room. Some common observations emerged:

  1. Many business schools are partnering with schools of engineering and design to create products that are useful, well-crafted, and marketable. But other, less traditional partnerships are also gaining traction. For instance, business schools can collaborate with the arts and humanities schools to have their students learn foreign languages, which makes these students more adept when they go on international internships. Other likely partners are schools of medicine, law, communications, or natural sciences. In fact, Zaheer urged participants to not be simply "trans-disciplinary," but "pan-disciplinary."
  2. For a cross-disciplinary initiative to work, it needs both champions at the faculty level and supporters at the administrative level. If the mandate for joint programs comes from above, it can be painful to implement, but the results are frequently very good once the adjustment period is over.
  3. Sometimes the impetus to develop a cross-disciplinary program comes from outside, when a corporate partner or an advisory board member acts as the advocate. Business schools frequently are the ones seeking the partnership, but they need to be open to cross-disciplinary opportunities that are suggested by other institutions—either on campus or across the world.
  4. Opportunities for cross-disciplinary initiatives come at almost every level: in graduate, undergraduate, or executive education programs; in certificate programs; and in minors and short-term courses.
  5. Cross-disciplinary programs can attract nontraditional funding, which is useful in an era of tight budgets. For instance, a corporate partner might be willing to fund a center that provides cross-displinary solutions to its particular needs. In Kansas (U.S.), state budgets have been cut, but money has been set aside to hire faculty who will take cross-disciplinary appointments.
  6. Finally, any successful cross-disciplinary initiative will need to add value—for the students and/or the communities the school serves.