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Global corporate citizenship: work in progress

Posted: October 19, 2014 at 9:17 am

IMG_1296A lot can change in two decades.

I went to Cleveland this past week, to the same stage where, eight years ago, a group of business educators committed ourselves to creating the Principles of Responsible Management Education: the Business as Agent of World Benefit Forum hosted by the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University.

Back then, the idea that business ultimately exists to serve society and that it therefore shares the responsibility with other stakeholders to address the world’s most pressing developmental challenges was still considered somewhere between subversive and marginal in the business education establishment.  Today, 565 business schools from around the world (including ours) have endorsed six principles that begin with the following declaration:

We will develop the capabilities of students to be future generators of sustainable value for business and society at large and to work for an inclusive and sustainable global economy.

Not that long ago, businesses and business schools were nowhere to be seen when the big questions about global development were at stake. That was the case in 1992, when the United Nations convened the Conference on Environment and Development (Earth Summit) in Rio, even though participants included 172 government officials, 108 at level of heads of State or Government, and some 2,400 representatives of non-governmental organizations.

In September 2000, the UN General Assembly’s Millennium Declaration recognized the need to “develop strong partnerships with the private sector and with civil society organizations in pursuit of development and poverty eradication”.  The idea was captured as part of the 8th (and last) Millennium Development Goal, under the rubric of forging a “global partnership for development”.

A couple of months before, in July 2000, then Secretary General Kofi Annan had launched in NY the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), a collaborative framework for “businesses that are committed to aligning their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labour,environment and anti-corruption” (the anti-corruption principle was actually added only after the United Nations Convention Against Corruption was adopted in 2003).  Over 10,000 organizations from 145 countries have since endorsed the Compact, including world giants like Coca Cola and Pepsi, Johnson & Johnson, 3M or Telefónica.

I would have loved to be able to claim that business schools were responsible for triggering this change, but the truth is that educators followed, didn’t lead, corporate attitudes.  However it happened, many business schools ultimately joined the movement.  During the second UN Global Compact Leaders Summit in Geneva in July 2007, the Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME) were officially presented to the new Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.  I had the honor of chairing the international group of academics who ultimately produced the six principles and, while the process was more politically complex than I had anticipated, I am proud of the ultimate outcome and the fact that the PRME framework was launched with the support of AACSB, EFMD and other leading business school organizations.

Since 2007, the notion of global corporate citizenship has gradually become less marginal and a more mainstream. Harvard Prof. Michael Jensen, of agency-theory fame, now lectures on leadership and integrity. And Michael Porter, who taught us how to build competitive advantage by overpowering rivals, suppliers and customers, is now the most notable proponent of “shared value” creation.

By the time the UN convened the Conference of Environment and Development again in Rio in 2012 (20 years after the original Earth Summit, thus the Rio+20 name), businesses and business schools were much better represented. In fact, while questions were raised as to the effectiveness of the overall conference in reaching meaningful agreements among nation states, both the Global Compact and PRME were rather productive.

So where are we now?

The Millennium Development Goals are set to expire next year and a new framework is currently being developed under the name “Sustainable Development Goals“.  The latest draft includes 17 goals and the UNGC is bringing the perspective from the private sector and is proposing ways to help organize the goals into an easier to communicate framework (as shown in the attached photo).  There are two main differences between these new goals and the MDGs.  First, they target not only the needs and challenges of the developing world, but of the whole world (rich and poor).  Second, the private sector is no longer an afterthought but a central partner in achieving the goals.

With this work-in-progress as background, participants in Cleveland this past week discussed how business schools could take on a key leading role in pushing the new global development agenda.  Some of the most far reaching ideas included the following calls for action for business schools, especially those that have endorsed PRME:

  • Align their education, research, and engagement agendas with key global development issues as being articulated in the UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals framework;
  • Embed new content and transformative learning approaches, including experiential learning, throughout the curriculum in order to develop the competencies necessary for business to tackle our major sustainable development goals;
  • Engage in new forms of action research around the major sustainable development issues we face and create new solutions to help business play a more effective role in multiple local contexts;
  • Play an active role as public opinion leaders, advisors, solution providers and facilitators to help business become an effective agent of sustainable development;
  • Act as impartial facilitators for and between business, government, and civil society.

Interestingly, while some participants congratulated ourselves on the progress that has been made since 2006, one young executive who had just finished a global MBA program jointly offered by a select group of top business schools from different countries shared the fact that her curriculum didn’t include a single reference to global development challenges, UNGC or PRME.

So much work done, so much left to do!

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Top 10 reasons to study abroad

Posted: October 13, 2014 at 9:04 am

As we prepare for tomorrow’s official opening of Mason Global Center, I thought it would be timely to share my top 10 reasons why every college student should try to study abroad if at all possible:

  1. You will learn to appreciate what makes people around the world different
  2. You will learn to appreciate what makes people around the world the same
  3. Learning and using a new language is good for your brain (and for you)
  4. Your employer of choice either does business internationally or is likely to do so soon (Career Services offers a workshop on how to market your study-abroad experience effectively)
  5. You will dismantle some of your craziest beliefs about others and about yourself
  6. You will make your country stronger
  7. You will come back with a bunch of good stories to tell
  8. Many world leaders strongly recommend it, including First Lady Michelle Obama and even the King of Spain (who himself was a grad student in the U.S. years ago)
  9. You’ll make life-long friendships and professional relationships that may come in handy in the future
  10. If you happen to be a Mason student, our Center for Global Education makes it very easy to do, with more than 90 study abroad programs for you to choose fromIIE_Sept_22_14-11

Still unconvinced, watch IIE‘s #generationstudyabroad video.

One very good way to dip your toes abroad is to spend a semester in Mason Korea.  Seoul offers a unique window into Asia through one of the most creative and innovative spots today.  In addition to discovering the genius behind Samsung electronics and Korean industrial renaissance, or hopping on a short flight to experience Tokyo, Beijing or Shanghai, your Gangnam Style dance will never be the same!  You will take classes in a state-of-the-art campus in the brand-new city of Songdo-Incheon and can be in downtown Seoul (or posh Gangnam) in a simple metro ride.

If you can’t arrange for a semester-long program, the Center for Global Education offers two-week winter break programs that earn three credits. These are group-study tours led by a Mason faculty member.  There are also month-long, six-credit summer programs as well as a few summer school programs.

Students with 45 credits or more can participate in international internship programs in the summer (six to nine credits) or during a full semester (12 to 16 credits). Internship placements are arranged to match students’ career and academic objectives as well as possible.

Of course, if you can, go for a longer program. Students with 45 credits or more can go abroad for a semester or a year to one of Mason’s partner universities: more than 40 of them in 23 countries. If Mason options do not meet a student’s academic or geographic goals, that student can enroll in an accredited program offered by third parties and receive transfer credit.

For more information, go to http://masonkorea.gmu.edu/ or http://globaled.Gmu.Edu/ (email cge@gmu.edu or call 703-993-2154).

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A beautiful prize – Malala Yousafzay

Posted: October 10, 2014 at 6:32 am


What a beautiful thing, for a Pakistani girl who just 2 years ago was shot in the head for defending the right of girls to go to school, to be honored with the greatest of honors: the Nobel Peace Prize.  What better example for people young and old.  What great role model for a university whose motto is “freedom and learning”.  I was moved by her last year when I listened to her at Clinton Global Initiative.  I was inspired by her commitment to her cause.  By her willingness to risk her own life for a cause she believes is greater than herself.


“Knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom”, said Fredrick Douglass.

“Only the educated are free”, said Epictetus.

“All I want is an education, and I am afraid of no one”, said Malala Yousafzai

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A well-being university

Posted: October 9, 2014 at 8:30 am

I’ve learned from my wife, from Prof. Nance Lucas, and from other colleagues at our Center for the Advancement of Well-Being that using one’s strengths is critical for one’s well-being.  Not surprisingly, when we put our strengths to work we feel fulfilled and have more fun, we increase our chances of success at whatever it is we do,  and we enhance our self-confidence.

Obviously, before you can focus on your strengths, you need to know what they are.  And while some of us may have a good sense of what it is we’re good at, it’s not a bad idea to use a good assessment tool to validate our intuitions.  As it turns out, we have such a tool available free of charge for Mason students, faculty and staff: the Gallup StrengthsFinder Assessment.  So I went ahead and did mine.

Here’s what I learned about myself.

  • Apparently, I am “fascinated by ideas and delight in finding out why things are the way they are”. (check!)
  • “I like to think”. (No argument there).
  • “I love to peer over the horizon to see visions of what could be”. (You betcha).
  • “I am drawn to the process of learning”. (Pretty much as long as I can remember!).
  • “I am inquisitive and find the world exciting because of its infinite variety and complexity. (Right again. When I learn about our faculty’s research, I’m astounded at how much we know and yet how much we still have to discover).

This last summer, Prof. Lucas sent me a copy of “How Full Is Your Bucket?”, the book all incoming first-year students received a at orientation as part of the Mason Reads program.  As I read the book and went through the report from my StrengthsFinder assessment, many aspects of my career became much clearer: the times when I did great and the times when I didn’t do so well could be explained by how well the position I was in allowed me to put my strengths to work.

Well-being is not a feel-good buzzword that we throw around lightly, but a central element of what we do. Our mission is not just to prepare our students for successful careers, but to prepare them to live meaningful lives.  That’s why we have set as one of our goals to become a “well-being university”.   Well-being is in part about determining what interests and motivates each of us and how we can feed and tap into our interests and strengths to lead lives of deeper meaning.  If you haven’t taken your StrengthsFinder yet, I strongly recommend it as a perfect way to start!

By the way, “Bucket” co-author Tom Rath, who has written a number of bestsellers, will speak  at Mason on Oct. 28 at the Center for the Arts on the Fairfax Campus. We’re delighted to have him. Program times are 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. The events are free but require tickets.

I hope to see you there. Let’s thrive together.

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Turn off the violence

Posted: October 6, 2014 at 8:57 pm

Eliminating sexual violence from our college campuses is on all of us. We all can and must play a role in eradicating this crime that is estimated to victimize an astonishing 1 in 5 college females. We all can work to foster a safe environment. We all can report what we see and hear. And that’s what “Turn Off the Violence Week” is about.

We are dedicating tomorrow’s Freedom and Learning Forum to this pressing issue by welcoming Rosemary Trible to our campus (3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday Oct. 7) in The Hub Ballroom. Rosemary is the president and founder of Fear 2 Freedom, an organization dedicated to healing victims of violence and abuse.

She has a personal story that will shed light on sexual assault and how those affected can go “from victim to victory,” as Rosemary says. She has made this work her life mission, and I greatly look forward to hearing her insights on this issue.

After that presentation, Mason students will assemble “Fear 2 Freedom” after-care kits for distribution to those affected by sexual assault, child abuse, domestic violence and sex trafficking. The 250 kits will supply Student Health Services; Wellness, Alcohol and Violence Education Services and area hospitals.

A program from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Johnson Center Gold Room will address intimate partner violence in a panel format, with survivors and professionals who work with abusers.

Please join us for these events.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe recently named me to his 30-person Task Force on Combating Campus Sexual Violence. This group includes members of law enforcement, educators, forensic nurses, advocates and others. Our goal is to find the best ways to prevent sexual violence on campus. I will keep you updated here on what we learn. I am confident that, by working together, we will find solutions.

Just as a reminder, George Mason University offers services for victims of sexual assault and interpersonal and domestic violence., including:

Wellness, Alcohol and Violence Education Services (WAVES): 703-993-9999

24-hour Sexual and Intimate Partner Violence Crisis Line: 703-380-1434

Campus calls to 9-1-1 reach the University Police Department

Counseling and Psychological Services: 703-993-2380

Student Health: 703-993-2831

Student Support: 703-993-5376

Women and Gender Studies: 703-993-2896

University Life: 703-993-2884


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The curious relationship between state budget cuts and student debt

Posted: October 3, 2014 at 6:30 am

By Ángel Cabrera and Kirk Heffelmire

In the end, our state appropriation was not cut by 5%, as it was originally announced, but by 3.8%.  Across the Commonwealth, higher education will see, on average, a reduction of 3.3% in state support a consequence of the tax revenue shortfall Virginia faces.

This reduction in funding is not an isolated event.  As we’ve discussed here before, it is a new data point on a 15 year-long trend of reduction in state funding of universities, not just in Virginia, but across the country. One of the most direct consequences of this trend has been a dramatic rise in tuition. In our case, inflation-adjusted expenditures per student have not changed noticeably, but our state appropriation per student has effectively been halved and our tuition has consequently more than doubled.  In short, we have moved from a model that sees higher education as mostly a public good that is primarily funded by the state, to a model that sees a college degree as mostly a private good to be primarily paid for by the student.

One of the most direct consequences of raising tuition is the ballooning of student debt.  Recent college graduates hold the highest student loan debt burdens ever. The majority of students graduate with at least some loan debt.  In Virginia, the number of undergraduate students graduating with more than $25,000 in loan debt more than doubled between 2008 and 2012. The average debt per Virginia college graduate in 2012 was well over $18,000.

Our analysis of publicly available data shows that state support is linked to the amount of student loan debt at graduation.  The chart below compares the amount of student loan debt at graduation to the level of state support across 49 states (data for North Dakota was not available.) The measure of student loan debt is the average amount of debt per college graduate from the 2011-12 school year. The level of state support is the amount of funds used to support public higher education per full-time equivalent student from state budgets averaged over four years. The four-year average is also lagged by one year to allow for any delay between changing state support and increases in tuition rates affecting students (Data sources: State Higher Education Executive Officers Association and CollegeInSight)


States allocating more funds per full-time equivalent student have a lower student loan burdens on a per graduate basis (a statistically significant relationship). The relationship also holds for graduates in previous years over the past decade.  On average for every $100 in additional state support per student the loan burden at graduation declines by $66.  And these figures include all students, those who borrow and those who don’t.  The financial obligations for those who borrow, are much larger than the chart shows.

So far, debt hasn’t erased the value of a college degree, which has in fact reached record levels even when factoring in growing student debt.  In the case of George Mason University, the comparatively high employment levels and wages of our graduates, our comparatively low tuition, and the fact that more and more of our students transfer from the community colleges and work during college have helped keep student loan default rates among the lowest in the country.  We remain committed to finding alternative sources of revenue and efficiency to ease the burden on our students as much as we possibly can. But as the old saying goes, there ain’t no free lunch.  If the state doesn’t pay, students likely will, either in the form of quality, or tuition, or time-to-degree or a combination of the above.


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Arts by George

Posted: September 29, 2014 at 1:06 pm

FullSizeRenderCongratulations to the entire College of Visual and Performing Arts faculty and staff, board members, volunteers, sponsors and friends who, under Dean Bill Reeder’s leadership, gave us an extraordinary and unforgettable Arts by George festival last saturday.

Most importantly, congratulations and thank you to our students, who beautifully showed to our community the best Mason can offer.

Thank you finally to Broadway star Patti Lupone for graciously sharing the spotlight with our students and letting them have a true “evening like no other”!

A central mission of our university is to enrich the cultural life of our community. This was a perfect display of what that means in practice.


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A King salutes the important role of scholar exchanges

Posted: September 24, 2014 at 4:00 pm

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 3.32.55 PMMy op-ed in El País, Auténtica marca España | Opinión | EL PAÍS (True Spanish Brand, in Spanish) celebrates King Felipe’s decision to visit with Spanish academics as his very first official act as King in the U.S., two days before his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly.

The visit, which I had the honor to help organize, took place in the New York offices of the Institute of International Education (the organization that manages the Fulbright Program) and was hosted by IIE’s president (and the King’s graduate school mentor a few years ago) Allan Goodman.  In attendance, in addition to the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Spain’s Ambassador in the U.S. and other officials from Spain and the U.S., a great number of current and past Spanish and American Fulbright Scholars (whose energy made me want to apply for another Fulbright!).

Following the public presentation, a small private discussion with a group of Spanish professors of economics, business, literature, science and political science in leading American universities on how to best engage the community of Spanish scholars in the U.S..

A symbolic but important message only a king can send: the recognition of the silent but very effective public diplomacy work that academics play every day by engaging in research and education with colleagues around the world.20140922_Fullbright_08


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Business School Ethics

Posted: September 23, 2014 at 6:54 pm

My views on ethics in business schools, this week on BBC World Service – Business Daily. Meaningful steps in the right direction have been taken but much more remains to be done. (By the way, Mason’s School of Business is a signatory of the Principles of Responsible Management Education and it just adopted a new model of ethics and sustainability into the MBA and Masters in Accounting)

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The value of a college degree has more than tripled in 30 years

Posted: September 12, 2014 at 5:10 pm

By Ángel Cabrera and Kirk Heffelmire

Don’t let the critics fool you: the economic value of a college degree is not declining but growing–even as tuition continues to rise.

The higher-ed doomsday genre is alive and well (the most recent example, Academically Adrift).  And yet, while questions persist about the value of a college experience, employer demand for what colleges and universities produce is on the rise.  It goes without saying that employment outcomes do not capture all the value a college degree is intended to deliver.  But they are an important element.  And since tuition is expressed in dollar terms, we owe it to everyone to show that a college degree is a good investment in economic terms.

Recent research from economists at the New York Federal Reserve add to the overwhelming body of data showing that a bachelor’s degree is a pretty safe and wise investment. In fact, the return on the investment on a bachelor’s degree is at a 30-year high.  The net preset value of a bachelor’s degree is more than $270,000 vs. $80,000 in 1980 (expressed in 2013 dollars).  These figures are calculated by considering tuition expenses, the wages foregone by studying instead of working, and the income premium earned across a working career with a college degree as opposed to only a high school diploma, all discounted to today’s value. (By the way, the researchers note that the value has gone up despite the increases in tuition, not so much because college graduates are doing better but because those without a college degree are doing worse).

Like any investment, higher ed too carries its risks.  Perhaps admissions brochures should include clear disclaimers detailing the major factors that can increase risk and reduce return.

For example, the value of a degree declines substantially the longer a student stays in school beyond four years.  In addition to the obvious additional tuition payments and foregone wages, the delay in gaining early career experience puts you on a disadvantaged wage trajectory over the duration of your working life.  Researchers have found that every additional year you stay in college beyond the customary four will cost you $65,000 in net present value.  Graduate in six or seven years and the value of your investment will erode very fast.

These are not certain outcomes but statistical estimates.  The actual value of a degree for each individual will vary.  For example, the the cited research estimates that up to 25% of college graduates may not see a monetary return on their investment whatsoever.  A bachelor’s degree is not a zero-risk investment. It is entirely possible for a high school graduate to out earn a college graduate, even if the odds are against them.

An economic recession like the one we just experienced hurts everyone’s employment, college graduate or not. However, the researchers illustrate that, even then, the statistical value of a degree is undisputed. The unemployment rate for recent college graduates has fallen since the recession and is less than half the rate for comparable workers without a degree. There is evidence that many college graduates are underemployed, meaning they have jobs that may not require their full qualifications. However, among the underemployed college graduates most have found relatively high-paying jobs.

So here’s our advice.  If you have the potential and can find the way to finance it, research your options, look at the data, choose a solid college with good outcomes, go to college and graduate as soon as possible. The returns on this investment are by no means guaranteed.  But this will be one of the surest, safest investments you will make in your lifetime.

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