July 19, 2011
Corporations/B.A. Roundtable: On Teaching CSR and other Corporate Law Theory
Posted by Lisa Fairfax

David, Kent and Erik all offer some very nice insights about the best way to teach corporate social responsibility.  So I could not help but to add my own. 

First, I tend to focus on CSR by teaching Dodge and Wrigley Fields back-to-back.  Then I have a broader discussion about both the aims of the corporation, and corporate actors ability to pursue those aims, in light of both cases. 

Second, the question about how, and to what extent, you focus on CSR also could be viewed as a question about whether and to what extent you teach corporate law theory in the basic Corporations/B.A. course.  As Kent points out, some students get turned-off by theory, and hence you risk losing them if you decide to focus on theory.  Then too, it is often difficult to find the right balance between teaching theory and doctrine, particularly if you are also seeking to introduce students to some basic economic and financial principles.  However, the question of whether or not to teach theory is probably one we should all think more seriously about, especially because it is possible that if we fail to focus on theory, we could be implicitly endorsing one theory over another.  Indeed, when I introduce CSR concepts towards the middle of the class I get the sense that I am pushing against an established norm, even though it is often the case that we have not really discussed other theories.

Reading through the various posts on CSR, it strikes me that teaching students CSR in the context of a broader discussion involving the benefits and drawbacks of various corporate law theories has benefits.  Indeed, as Erik's post suggests, if you teach CSR at the end of the course you run the risk of appearing to marginalize the discussion.  But if you introduce CSR early in the course without any context or intent to return to it, it is possible that students will not be equipped to have a robust discussion about its merits.  However, if you are so inclined, it is possible to teach the basic Corporations/BA course in a manner that also engages students on the theoretical debates animating corporate law.  Thus, as Kent suggests, you can introduce various theories early in the course, informing students that your aim is to provide them with a lens through which they can test the strength of each theory.  Then, theories can be tested as you work your way through the doctrine by discussing whether and to what extent the relevant case law supports or undermines a given theory.  In this way, you encourage students to look critically at each theory. 

To be sure, I think we all agree that there are any number of ways that one can approach teaching in this area, including teaching CSR in this area.  And they all involve trade-offs.  However, regardless of which approach you take, I think it is good that we are at least having a discussion about taking CSR seriously.

Roundtable: Corps/B.A., Social Responsibility, Teaching | Bookmark

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