The Ideology of Silence at the Harvard Business School: Structuring Faculty’s Teaching Tasks for Moral Relativism

Abstract:

Business schools offer a unique window into the making of corporate morals since they bring together future executives at formative moments in their professional lives. And business school faculty members play a crucial role in shaping these morals. This article relies on an analysis of faculty members’ teaching tasks at the Harvard Business School to better understand the making of corporate morals. More specifically, it builds on a coding of teaching notes used by faculty members in the first-year MBA curriculum to highlight the importance of silence in promoting a culture of moral relativism. Indeed, while notes heavily script faculty members’ teaching tasks and cast business decisions as matters of individual choice, they also remain silent on the moral compass that might guide these choices; allowing for moral relativism to prevail. Put otherwise, faculty’s teaching tasks are structured to promote moral silence or refrain from passing judgment on any given moral viewpoints. In doing so, a form of moral pluralism or relativism is promoted. The ideology of silence that guides and gets reflected in faculty’s teaching tasks, constitutes, I argue, a powerful ideology—one allowing multiple viewpoints to flourish and also protecting (future) business leaders from critical assessment. An ideology of silence implicitly primes business leaders not to vilify any moral stand, but also justifies almost all stands. This structuring of faculty members’ teaching tasks proves extremely consequential. In this context, almost anything can now be labeled “moral” and thus nothing can be deemed “immoral.”

Last updated on 11/26/2020