The Open Syllabus Project

Last week a database of open access syllabi from many educational institutions around the globe, the Open Syllabus Project (http://explorer.opensyllabusproject.org), was published. This is a truly fascinating database (see also this article http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/24/opinion/sunday/what-a-million-syllabuses-can-teach-us.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share&_r=0). Even though it lacks representativeness, it does include references to a total of almost 1 million different readings from many syllabi from different fields of subject and 5 countries (all English speaking: US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand). Given this number, it does allow for some conclusions about the current state of educational affairs at colleges and universities.

A few observations and ideas from my side after a first short glance at the list:

1) The top items on the list are quite often philosophical in nature – and make you wonder, why in reality Philosophy is such a marginal subject (at least when counting number of professors and students). (In reality the explanation is, that many of these texts are being used in multiple disciplines, but given the importance that other fields seem to put on philosophy it still makes you wonder why philosophy has such a limited voice in many contemporary debates.)

2) When selecting only syllabi from the discipline area “Business” – only 2 out of the top 15 readings in the syllabi are not finance, accounting or marketing; 10 out the top 15 are in fact finance or accounting! Three possible explanations come to my mind: Either there are just more finance, accounting and marketing syllabi in the data base, which in turn could be (a) explained by the fact that there are just more finance, accounting and marketing courses than other disciplines, or (b) other disciplines are more secretive about the syllabi which is why they don’t end up in the database. Alternatively (c) the dominance of finance, accounting and marketing texts at the top of the list could be explained by a higher level of agreement between teachers about what are the most relevant texts in the discipline. – Maybe there are even more explanations, but all of the three listed above somehow disappoint me:

(re a) That just shouldn’t be the case, because business is so much more than just finance, accounting and marketing!

(re b) Why should educators from other disciplines be so much more secretive about their syllabi? Wouldn’t it be much more important  to be public and transparent about the content of courses in fields that deal with the business in its larger context (CSR, business ethics, business and law, business and government et.)?

(re c) That would just be an expression that the underlying believes and assumptions of finance, accounting and marketing are more shared /  more common than those in other fields – and I don’t see any good explanation for that. In fact: maybe it should be the obligation of educators and researchers in other domains to challenge some of these assumptions… (And just by the way: even when only looking at accounting, shouldn’t it be expected that at least one text on integrated reporting, triple bottom line or the like makes it pretty far up in the list?)

3) There is only a truly disappointing list of texts in the domain of business ethics. Yes, there are some texts from syllabi in the field of business education with the keyword “ethics” – but in the top 1,000 texts this is only true for 13 plus 2 with the keyword “moral”. In total  only 1.5% of the total text body is directly related to ethics/moral. And out of these 15 only 6 are in the top 500, whereas 9 titles are found between 501 and 1,000. There is not a single text with “moral” or “ethics” in the top 100!

It doesn’t get much better if you include more search terms: There is no text with “CSR” or “responsibility” in the title, only one with “stakeholder” (but this is already in the 13 with “ethics”) – and the picture doesn’t get substantially better with any other keyword that came to my mind in the larger context of business – “environment”, “social”, “ecology”… All together a look at what is missing in the top 1,000 titles is truly disappointing and seemingly only supporting highly cynical views on business overall.

 

Full list of the 13 texts with keyword “ethics” plus 2 with the keyword “moral” in the top 1,000 texts of the database:

    1. 179 Ethics by Aristotle
    2. 340 Business Ethics : A Stakeholder and Issues Management Approach by Weiss, Joseph W.
    3. 414 Business : Its Legal, Ethical, and Global Environment by Jennings, Marianne
    4. 418 Business Ethics : Concepts and Cases by Velasquez, Manuel G.
    5. 485 Computer Ethics by Johnson, Deborah G., 1945
    6. 491 Case Studies in Business, Society, and Ethics by Beauchamp, Tom L.
    7. 553 Business and Professional Ethics for Accountants by Brooks, Leonard J.
    8. 604 Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle
    9. 641 Ethics and the Conduct of Business by Boatright, John Raymond, 1941
    10. 665 Moral Issues in Business by Shaw, William H., 1948
    11. 819 Regulation of Lawyers : Problems of Law and Ethics by Gillers, Stephen, 1943
    12. 821 Moral Issues in Business by Barry, Vincent E.
    13. 831 Sex and Virtue : An Introduction to Sexual Ethics by Grabowski, John S.
    14. 866 Perspectives in Business Ethics by Hartman, Laura Pincus
    15. 886 Business Ethics : Ethical Decision Making and Cases by Ferrell, O. C.