Law School and B-School Debates

At Penn Law, I have really enjoyed the Socratic method of learning. With this method, Professors encourage students to question their beliefs about the facts of a case, as well as what the law ought to be. This method facilitates debate amongst students. It doesn’t come as a surprise that law school students enjoy debating ideas. But these debates are not only enjoyable – there are also valuable in helping people of diverse backgrounds feel like they have a place at the school.

The law school has students who believe in Kantian ethics – that the law should encourage good for the sake of the good itself. Other students are Utilitarian and believe that laws should be enacted if their benefits outweigh their costs. While some students focus on the individual, others are more concerned about groups. At law school, it does not matter how unconventional your viewpoint is; your views are welcome in the classroom.

As I began taking Wharton classes, I was concerned that business school would have a singular perspective of maximizing profits. And where I would fit in such a setting considering I have usually been motivated more by means than by ends? As such, I was pleasantly surprised to see my b-school classmates engage in vigorous debates on a variety of different topics, such as:

1. Should an employer be able to reject a job candidate for a job requiring a high level of time commitment because such candidate has children?
2. Will an employer be more profitable by paying its employees below-market or above-market wages?
3. Should a corporation’s (sole or primary) purpose be to maximize profits?

Wharton professors recognize that management has fiduciary duties to enhance firm value. However, firm value can be enhanced even by costly actions such as those involving corporate social responsibility. For example, one of our case studies in global management concerned a mining company that engaged with the community where it mined, and provided better working conditions to its miners. The company ended up making higher profits due to these more humane policies. By engaging with the surrounding community and treating its workers better, the mining company found that its plant had a lower incidence of protests and strikes. As such, its mining operations continued on schedule, and the company subsequently had lower costs.

Although business school focuses more on Utilitarian ideologies, the corporate goal of enhancing firm value is not limited to maximizing current profits. Firms frequently find that following Kantian ethics of treating employees, communities, and customers more humanely, they are able to sustain higher profits in the long-term. Such humane policies can frequently enable a firm to build intangible assets such as a stronger brand and goodwill (not the accounting kind) in the community. And consequently, Kantians like me find a place in b-school debates.

– Chandni Saxena, L15 WG15