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Mission Matters #62 – Intellectual Traditions of the School of Business, Part II

This year we are exploring intellectual traditions associated with UIndy’s schools and colleges. 

Introduction by Michael G. Cartwright, Vice President for University Mission

The first part of Karl Knapp’s essay identified the various disciplines of study in the School of Business, which helps in charting relations between faculty in the Shaheen College of Arts & Sciences and business faculty. Less obvious is the fact that there are faculty in arts & sciences who teach courses to serve the needs of students in business just as there are arts and sciences faculty who support the curriculum in the other professional schools. Let me call your attention to one of these faculty intersections that has existed in one form or another for more than 30 years.

When I arrived at UIndy in 1996, the Department of Philosophy & Religion and the School of Business had an existing arrangement for philosophy faculty to teach the required course in Ethics in the MBA program. So my first two years, I taught in the MBA program and served on the Graduate Business Programs Committee during that same time period. I developed an Ethics Audit that students used to analyze ethics in the workplace and wrestled with gnarly examples of corporate social responsibility.

I found the students to be highly motivated and I enjoyed working with them much more than I had anticipated might be the case, given my limited background in business endeavors. With one or two exceptions, the MBA students had a strong work ethic. In retrospect, I think I may have enjoyed teaching those students as much as any other classes that I taught during my first five years at UIndy. Doing so helped me when I encountered students in undergraduate classes that I taught who came from business backgrounds.

Although the MBA program no longer has a required course in ethics, the School of Business still collaborates with philosophers. Jonathan Evans, who currently serves as Philosophy & Religion Chairperson, tells me that the Philosophy faculty “have offered an undergraduate section of ethics for business majors for over 12 years. This course examines standard normative theories in ethics and applies them to business contexts.  Topics include whistleblowing, financial ethics, OSHA related topics (workplace safety and information), marketing ethics, etc.”

Jonathan goes on to explain, “while business students are strongly encouraged to take the course, some opt to fulfill the Philosophy/Ethics core by taking a different class,” since only one section of the course is offered each semester.  In addition, the Philosophy faculty have been contributing a graduate-level Business Ethics course for the MPS in Real Estate Development for the last four years. Jonathan reports that he has taught that class and made revisions and additions based on collaborations with the School of Business program director, Eric Harvey.  Prof. Evans reports that from the perspective of his department, “this has been a very fruitful relationship.” As it should be. After all, UIndy is a comprehensive university where we make programs work better through interdisciplinary collaboration.

Keep that in mind the next time you hear colleagues wonder about whether folks in the arts & sciences have much in common with the professional schools. Remind them: the lines of distinction between the various curricula of the university are functional; they do not exist all the way down. Then you can encourage such persons to read the second part of Karl Knapp’s article where he spells out the core pedagogy in applied learning to which both the graduate and undergraduate faculty in the School of Business are committed. There they can learn about project-based learning, another approach to teaching and learning that faculty in the School of Business share with faculty throughout the university. -MGC

The Academic Traditions of Business

Knapp, KarlBy Dr. Karl Knapp, associate professor in the School of Business

Relative to the rest of academia, business schools are a recent phenomenon. École superiéure de Commerce at Paris, founded in 1819, was the world’s first business school. In 1881 the Wharton School of Finance and Economy at the University of Pennsylvania was the first in the United States. Following their lead, business schools began to flourish at other universities throughout the 20th century.

As Michael Cartwright pointed out in his preface to the previous article, Indiana Central (later known as UIndy) had a School of Commerce at its founding with students matriculating as early as 1905. Fifteen years later, in 1920, Indiana University established its School of Commerce and Finance while nearby in Ohio, Miami University created a School of Business Administration in 1927. Locally, Butler created their College of Business Administration in 1937 and Purdue followed over 20 years later in 1958 with their School of Industrial Management. Long an innovator, UIndy was the first to establish an evening MBA program in Indiana.

Early business schools that were a part of comprehensive universities in the U.S. had a heavy emphasis on professional practice, utilizing local practitioners to a great extent as key faculty. While this approach certainly provided students with relevant knowledge, it fell short of a comprehensive education expected from graduates of schools of higher learning. In 1959 two reports critical of the state of business education were published by the Ford and Carnegie Foundations. These reports were catalysts for large scale changes across business schools, causing many to expand emphasis on creating knowledge through research. As a result, business schools moved further from practice and closer toward what is known as the scholarship of discovery.

The transformation wrought certainly provided benefits to the theory and practice of business. Scholars in business, as in all academic disciplines, build upon the foundations of knowledge that have been established through the scientific method. The best research by academics in business mirrors the best research in all other disciplines. Since the 1960s, many theoretical advancements were made and published in the various business disciplines. While an overall positive development, recent critiques of the state of business schools indicate that many schools have drifted too far from practice. Prominent business scholars Warren Bennis and James O’Toole warned that business schools are on the wrong track. [i]  In a 2005 article, they argue that business schools have swung too far toward abstract scientific research, making what they teach less and less relevant to organizations and society. Their compelling argument is that business schools should adopt the general model of other professional schools, namely schools of law and medicine.

In the model Bennis and O’Toole propose, scholars in schools of business should be grounded in continuing practice. Medical schools conduct advanced biological research, while at the same time many of their faculty are practicing physicians. For schools of business, this means that faculty should blend teaching and research so they are actively engaged with current practitioners. Their efforts should strive to discover insights into advancing practice in both theoretical and practical ways. In advancement of that goal, scholarly activity of business faculty should bring to bear the other three areas of Boyer’s model, the scholarship of application, integration and of teaching and learning.

In response to this and other critiques regarding the state of business schools, the UIndy School of Business changed its strategy and focus beginning in the early 2000s. The UIndy School of Business began hiring faculty who are both accomplished practitioners and who hold terminal degrees in their discipline. Several years ago, the UIndy School of Business created a new strategic plan that analyzed the state of local business schools. The analysis showed that over 89 percent of UIndy business faculty have experience as a practitioner with an average of over 12 years of relevant practical experience.

This reveals itself to be distinctive among regional business schools. For example, a generous counting shows that less than half of a local competitor’s business faculty have any practical experience (with a meager average of four years of experience). The larger Indiana state schools have even lower numbers than that. Given this strategic differentiator, there was a conscious effort to capitalize on this key difference in a comprehensive way in the ongoing strategic planning process. One tactic chosen was to emphasize applied learning in the curriculum. 

There are various ways in which business schools can implement applied learning. For example, Harvard Business School emphasizes the use of real-world cases. The case method emphasizes analytical skills and the application of tools being learned in a semi-controlled environment grounded in real-world scenarios. Simulations, structured games, and other approaches can also aid students in application of theory to problems. The most logistically difficult approach is the one that has been adopted by the UIndy School of Business. While the case method, computer simulations and structured games are all a part of the UIndy business pedagogy, we have striven to have students apply what they are learning to actual problems being faced by local organizations.

In 2014 the faculty voted that every undergraduate major must include at least one upper-level class that utilizes a project-based applied learning approach at a local non-profit or for-profit organization throughout the semester. As a result, the UIndy School of Business has embraced applied learning as a core pedagogy, especially for upper-level undergraduate classes. Applied learning is “an educational approach whereby students learn by engaging in direct application of skills, theories, and models”.[ii]  Project-based, applied learning has been shown to increase learning outcomes, attendance, self-reliance and attitudes toward learning.

The applied learning approach is now being used throughout the undergraduate curriculum in the UIndy School of Business. Students studying a topic often find themselves practicing what they are learning alongside their professors in local non-profit or for-profit organizations. At the graduate level, students are often required to apply their learning to problems faced by the organizations where they work.

In the 2017 academic year, 31 classes had applied projects in which 424 students took part. In the 2018 academic year, 32 classes worked with local organizations involving 480 students. This is obviously a substantial commitment of time and energy by the students and faculty. This is an active attempt to truly practice “Education for Service” with the local and regional community.  These applied projects were conducted for organizations such as St. Vincent Health, Franciscan Health, IU Health, Caterpillar, Raymond F. Brandes School 65, OneAmerica, the United Methodist Church, the Indy Hope Center, and the Burmese American Community Institute. 

Expanding upon this philosophy, UIndy has partnered with Vincennes University to create a logistics learning lab, which is a working logistics facility where UIndy students get hands-on experience while learning about logistics. In addition, this will create a bridge between the universities to enable student and academic exchange.

This blend of application with scholarly research and teaching is logistically difficult. In medical schools, the practice of medicine at the onsite hospital provides proximity to the research subjects and population for which the curriculum is being applied. For a business school, it requires extensive local outreach to accomplish a similar balance. Finding appropriate problems in local organizations that relate to the material being taught requires a concerted continuous effort. For example, UIndy undergraduate students are currently solving various problems at Cummins Corporation in Franklin, Indiana, alongside UIndy professor Craig Seidelson and groups of employees at the company. These problem-solving student teams are learning how to apply Six Sigma tools at the company, which will enable them to sit for the Six Sigma Green Belt certification at the end of the applied project. This is a win for the students and a win for Cummins Corporation. Finding willing organizations with problems of a scope that fits the class in the timeframe of a semester is difficult. Nevertheless, the benefits of applied learning in a business school far outweigh the additional effort required.  

In addition to the direct benefits to local organizations, this shift toward applied learning creates opportunities for UIndy, students, and faculty. Applied projects enable faculty to test the latest theories and practices. It also gives rise to various scholarship and research opportunities for both students and faculty. There is a strong synergy between theory, practice, and application that can be harnessed by all participants. Applied projects provide direct opportunities for research in the scholarship of application. A survey of published works by the UIndy business faculty shows a preponderance of activity in the areas of the scholarship of application and the scholarship of teaching and learning. These scholarly activities, in many instances, are related to the applied work of the faculty with students in local organizations.

In addition to the qualitative benefits, this strategy has resonated with prospective students and their parents to a great degree. Over the previous five years, the number of undergraduate business students has grown by 30 percent. Over the same time period, graduate business student enrollment has increased by 27 percent. This impressive growth is based substantially on the applied focus of the school. The School of Business now serves over 1,000 total students, including those enrolled in four new master’s degree programs developed over the past few years.

The applied approach has also resonated with UIndy alumni and donors. With substantial donor support, the new Martin Family Finance Lab and the John C. Adams Finance Institute have recently opened. Students are now using Bloomberg software in the classroom, which is the premier finance software system used in the industry. These donations serve as external validation that the mission and strategies are on the right track.

In short, the academic tradition for the UIndy School of Business is focused on the application of knowledge in the classroom for the benefit of local organizations of all types. These benefits accrue to the students, the faculty, to scholarship, and to the University of Indianapolis.  


[i] Bennis & O’Toole (2005). How Business Schools Lost Their Way. Harvard Business Review, May 2005.

[ii] SUNY (2020). Definitions in Applied Learning