Courses on Overcoming Crisis

New courses emerge to address issues related to racial unrest and COVID-19.

WHETHER DUE TO the pandemic or the rise in racial tensions, 2020 has been a year of great crisis and conflict. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that schools are offering a spate of new courses to address the resulting challenges. Here is just a sampling:

Creating more adaptable managers. Grenoble Ecole de Management in France has launched a new five-course certificate program to train managers to effectively steer their organizations through crisis. GEM Resilient Manager teaches managers the tools and techniques required to create favorable psychological and relational working conditions for their employees—providing such support is particularly important as many teams continue to work remotely during the COVID crisis, say course organizers.

“Over the short term, companies will have to face challenges in terms of starting up their activities and supporting teams that were highly disrupted by the lockdown and the crisis,” says Gaël Fouillard, director of executive education, on the school’s website. “This is really the time for managers to learn about servant leadership, how to listen to their team members, in order to anticipate and manage worry and stress caused by this unique situation.”

One unusual feature of the program is a course in aikido, a martial art that emphasizes harmony and self-control. The pilot session of GEM Resilient Managers was offered for free, while the second session will be fully financed by France’s Ministry of Labor.

Balancing profits with policy. A new course at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor focuses on the importance of bringing together government and business. This is of particular importance during the COVID-19 pandemic and divisive political climate, says course creator Andy Hoffman, a professor of sustainable enterprise at the Ross School of Business and the School for Environment and Sustainability.

Business in Democracy: Advocacy, Lobbying, and Public Interest is a graduate-level course for students of both the Ross School and the Ford School of Public Policy. Hoffman taught the course this year and plans to teach it again in 2022. 

“I think that many public policy students believe business is bad and that if only the government could set the regulations for the market, all would be well. And many business students think the government has no role in the market and policy is an unwarranted intrusion and restraint on the market,” says Hoffman. “But we need to stop the conversation over more or less regulation in the market and talk about the right kind and the proper balance.”

The course covers topics such as government lobbying, campaign funding, market regulation, and policymaking that serves both the economy and society. Students also will discuss the role of business in contributing to the good of society, not just creating value for shareholders.

Working together, business and government can help society overcome the challenges presented by the pandemic, Hoffman emphasizes. “The COVID crisis has exposed and inflamed some problems in the market that were fomenting before the crisis hit,” he says. “Business alone can’t address the challenge of culture and behavior change, and government alone cannot address the challenge of vaccine, mask, and testing development.” In proper balance, he adds, government and business can join forces to solve societal problems more effectively.

Incorporating COVID across the curriculum. At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, professors across all disciplines are incorporating COVID-19-related content into their courses. For example, students in a course on modeling biomedical systems are reviewing a model of COVID-19 transmission in the United States. Students in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences are examining topics ranging from the intersection of the pandemic with social justice issues to the use of artificial intelligence to make more logical decisions in crises.

Architecture students are looking at infrastructure issues, such as post-pandemic work environments and the rapid deployment of prefabricated housing in times of crisis. Engineering students are designing solutions to problems arising from the pandemic—some undergraduates already have received provisional patents for their designs, including a splitter to allow multiple patients to use a single ventilator and a lung bypass system for COVID-19 patients whose lung tissue has been damaged.  

Business students at the Lally School of Management are studying the organizational consequences of COVID-19. For instance, Gaurav Jain, an assistant professor of marketing, is using the pandemic to illustrate how corporate communications can and should be more nimble during crisis. “The pandemic has made people more prevention-focused,” Jain said. “Marketing messages need to be in line with mindset.”

Building more inclusive organizations.  The high-profile deaths of several Black Americans at the hands of police—from George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky—have brought racial tensions in the United States to the forefront. As one consequence, many organizations have made public commitments to work toward greater diversity, equity, and inclusion, not only in their own cultures but in society.

But what role can business play in building more inclusive organizations? That question is explored in a new, free online course offered by the University of Virginia Darden School of Business in Charlottesville on the Coursera platform. “Foundations of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Work” is designed to help professionals, students, managers, and teachers better understand the complex issues that contribute to racial injustice. The course also presents tools and best practices to help them make a difference in their own organizations.

The course covers six topics: leading true inclusion in organizations; power and privilege in organizations; societal inequities of race and class in organizations, schools, and communities; difficult conversations and strategies for addressing conflict; the business case for diversity and inclusion; and addressing inequity and promoting change in organizations.

While many institutions made commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion, making good on those commitments will involve a willingness to act boldly and to maintain their commitments over time, says Martin Davidson, global chief diversity officer at the Darden School. “At a time when so many are seeking to engage with these topics in a meaningful way,” he says, “this teach-out is an effort to make our collective lessons and learnings available to whoever would like to know more.”