This week the School launches its Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME) student working group. Fabian Frenzel, Lecturer in the Political Economy of Organisation, explains why
Founded in 2007, PRME is a UN led initiative which aims to redress the demonstrable lack of care and responsibility taken by managers of increasingly powerful global corporations. It tries this by establishing “a process of continuous improvement among institutions of management education”, thereby seeking to develop “a new generation of business leaders capable of managing the complex challenges faced by business and society in the 21st century”. Leicester is one of PRME’s earliest signatories and we have, to date, submitted 2 reports outlining how we’re addressing our side of the bargain. This year, the decision was taken to commit even more resources to the initiative through the installation of a dedicated PRME officer: yours truly.
I’m delighted to have taken on the role, given its clear connection to my ongoing research into tourism and poverty. PRME can be understood as an attempt to respond to the vocal and radical critique of corporations and their managers, being made by social movements, consumer, labour and environmental organisations around the world. In this sense it is an initiative which has some merit. PRME must also be considered critically, however. It is, after all, housed in the very same offices of the UN Global Compact, an initiative through which multinational corporations have attempted to side-step regulatory demands by voluntarily committing to extra-fiduciary responsibilities. Many critics point to the limit of such efforts and claim they are mere window-dressing. Tax evasion, money laundering, interest rate rigging, price fixing, labour exploitation and a whole load of other disgraces besides, doubtlessly persist. Self-reporting is nowhere near enough.
For over a decade Leicester-based researchers have been arguing that if we unqualifiedly trust corporate managers, we do so largely at our peril. In the class room, this translates into a critical pedagogy which encourages students to question hollow and frequently banal corporate and managerial claims towards social responsibility. Critical thinking in the context of management studies, if it is to be worth anything, cannot result in a simplistic reinforcement of the status quo. Critical thinking rather questions existing paradigms for the sake of proposing alternatives to the current neo-liberal order. This is certainly not to say that we oppose managers as such – it is rather to say that our lack of managerial sycophancy makes us better disposed to appreciate the realities of modern working life. A genuine commitment to the spirit of PRME can add legitimacy to this approach by inviting us to analyse the organisation we work for. Universities, after all, are managed organisations. It stands to reason that we should ask how well they live up to the standards we expect of other managed organisations.
In launching the PRME student group this week we are putting this primarily pedagogical commitment into organisational practice. Over the foreseeable future the group will apply their critical management skills to the organisation within which they currently find themselves. Issues of fair pay, inclusivity, fair fees, sustainability and many others besides are going to come increasingly into focus. Hopefully the School will be able to lead by example but either way I’ll be providing regular updates on the project’s progress, as will the students.