The stately dining and meeting rooms of the Baker Library at the Harvard Business School seem a somewhat unlikely place to talk about understanding the problems in the middle east in general and fundamentalist Islam in specific.
Particularly when subjects like: should Cisco Systems sell internet routers to China, are being hotly debated in the classrooms right now. And while Cisco is seen as an important ethics case study (the routers help in cracking down on internet dissent), some of the larger concerns amongst some HBS faculty are to do with how to incorporate such subjects into their curriculum and teaching.
“Its not about Islam itself. Nor is about terrorism per se but every CEO with a global footprint has to think about it, understand it and factor it into his calculations of doing business,” a senior HBS professor told this writer over a ham and cheese sandwich lunch. “And we have no choice but to look at more closely,” he added, almost in a whisper.
His words turned out to be prophetic, well, nearly. Yesterday, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Alsaud announced a $20 million grant to Harvard University, a stone’s throw away, and Georgetown university in Washington to create programmes on understanding Islam.
“Harvard’s Islamic studies program will enable generations of students and scholars to gain a thorough understanding of Islam and its role both in the past and in today’s world. Bringing the understanding between East and West is important for peace and tolerance,” the Prince said in a statement.
Harvard will now create a university wide program on Islamic studies, recruit new faculty members and provide more support for graduate students. Harvard took six months to decide and ran the Prince’s proposal through its university’s gift policy committee, which meets once a month.
While Harvard University’s Islamic thrust may not have a direct bearing on the Business School’s curriculum right away, HBS faculty say they must bring in a greater understanding of the world as will be experienced by their students, much the same way, ethics and corporate governance became critical issues post-Enron. This they say is one of their biggest challenges in coming months and years.
What's The Big Deal !
Alwaleed has chosen his universities well. Sitting through a HBS class some days ago, one could not have experienced greater diversity in nationalities and cultures -a perfect crucible for a hands-on understanding of the complex global world (yes, it does unfortunately sound like a cliché) for future leaders.
Complex it must be, considering that the only time people kicked up a row like the one about Cisco's routers were when someone sold a few F16 fighter jets to a neighbour.