Not Business as Usual
Economist Jennifer Kohn uses a Federalist essay as the foundation for a new approach to teaching management.
What can business students learn from the writings of one of America’s founding fathers? A lot, says Assistant Professor of Economics Jennifer Kohn, who assigns James Madison’s Federalist #10 in her Introduction to Business Studies Course. In a recently published paper in the Journal of Management Education, she argues that the value of Madison’s essay as a learning tool is not only in its message, but also in its complexity.
“Federalist #10 is a very hard read and one benefit of assigning it is its ability to strengthen students’ core critical reading skills,” says Kohn, who studied political science as an undergraduate before earning a MBA from NYU-Stern and PhD from Rutgers. “It’s dense, which takes students outside their comfort zone in a very formative way.”
Kohn also believes Federalist #10 offers practical advice for managers on how to achieve their goals when faced with resistance from factions with competing interests. In this sense, she says, its message is about diplomacy and consensus-building. As one of our nation’s earliest founding documents, she also argues that its connections to our government help students to better understand the importance of engaged and active citizenry.
In Kohn’s introductory business course, Federalist #10 comes up throughout the semester in the form of brainstorming exercises, teamwork projects and analyses of case studies. But she also assigns readings by others whose views are contrary to Madison’s.
“One of my favorite things about Federalist #10 is that it gets students to confront their own assumptions about the nature of human behavior,” she says. “It’s important to balance and contextualize that by reading and discussing philosophers whose views differ.”
After many years of success in politics and the health care industry, Kohn was recruited to join the Drew faculty in 2009 to build and direct the business studies program. Since then, she has developed an approach to teaching management that gives alumni a noticeable edge in the marketplace.
“One former student is now living in New York and running her own business, while another is preparing to start a doctoral program in marketing,” she says. “These are just two examples of the larger trend that shows our business studies graduates in great jobs and top graduate schools.”
The success of former students isn’t surprising to Kohn, whose sense is that Drew’s focus on innovative problem solving sets its graduates apart from the pack. Whereas mainstream business schools teach the nuts and bolts of existing management techniques, Drew’s program equips students to think creatively to develop their own—which makes it unlike any other in the country.
“At Drew, we’re just as much about the ‘why’ as we are about the ‘how’,” she says. “We teach our students to develop new ways of doing things. The people who have the best shot of changing the way we do business are coming out of programs like ours.”—Michael Bressman
In Her Own Words
Want to know more about how Professor Kohn uses an old document to teach new lessons? She recently spoke about that in a podcast interview on her publication in the Journal of Management Education.