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Why I left the business school

| Contributing Writer
Illustration by Tuesday Hadden

Today, during my Management (MGT) 100 lecture, I was greeted by a mostly blank screen, only containing the question, “Why are you here?” The professor repeated what was on the board. Only one hand shot up. My classmate promptly answered, “I want money.” “Good,” responded my professor, as he made eye contact with the rest of my peers’ broad smiles. 

When I was applying to colleges, I applied everywhere as an English major, except for the select number of schools, like WashU, with Entrepreneurship programs. Entrepreneurship, in my mind, was the creative side of business: all of the basics, but with an emphasis on idea generation and innovation. 

Once I arrived at WashU, I was thrilled, enthusiastic about even the dreaded business requirements, MGT 100 and 150. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the vast majority of my peers in Olin were studying finance, hoping to graduate with guaranteed jobs as investment bankers and financial consultants. It was these students that I felt my lectures were catered towards, justifiably enough. According to the Weston Career Center, of the Class of 2021, 25% of Olin graduates went into finance or management and 31% went into consulting. Many of these students were likely signed to these positions as early as their junior years. The creative side of business that had drawn me to WashU felt lost and even suppressed. I had not even learned about the school’s Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurship until I began work on this article. 

Money became central to our learning; the starting salaries of former Olin students found their way into my lectures more times than one, greeted by cheers from the other students. I found myself so wrapped up in talk of potential earnings and management that I had forgotten what I had wanted out of my BSBA experience. 

The conversation of how to make money seemed to reign above all else in my lectures, which left me searching for something in addition to creativity: discourse about ethical business. I wanted to learn how to preserve important values while operating in the business world. Ethical business is the way to mitigate systemic issues in society and injustices against already-marginalized groups. In my experience, this conversation never once appeared in any class-led discussion, which is highly concerning as this is taking place in enclaves of brand new business students trying to build a foundation for later life. In fact, only 3 of the 120 required credits to graduate with a BSBA include the ethics of business, and that course, titled “Ethics,” is for upperclassmen who have already established a foundation in business without ethics. Morality and Markets, a course offered this spring which explores just that, is an ArtSci course, not an Olin one.

Clearly, the way Olin operates is working for the school. According to the Weston Career Center, 97% of Class of 2021 BSBA graduates seeking employment accepted a job, compared to 74% for Class of 2019 WashU graduates overall. But just because this framework works for them does not mean it works for me. Although I am still enrolled in my Olin classes from this semester, I have transferred out of the business school. An Olin major proved too confining for what I wanted, which was creativity in business. Now, I am working to carve out a place for myself in Olin. I am pursuing a minor in Business of the Arts, and I have registered for two courses that explore the ethics of business: Morality and Markets and Endgame of Entrepreneurship. I am hoping that these factors will supplement my time here well, allowing me freedom to study what I originally came here for and to use Olin’s many resources to my advantage. 

However, I should not have had to leave Olin to find creativity in business, especially when innovation and entrepreneurship are meant to be among its pillars. From what I have learned through my experience in the business school, Olin and its students would benefit greatly from opening up a discussion about ethical business, creativity, and ensuring that there is a place for everyone.

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