the mailbag

I receive relatively few comments per visitor on this blog, but some very thoughtful responses do appear, often buried deep in the archives. Today, I’d like to mention a few.

1. The rationale for business schools. In January 2004, I asked whether “business schools belong in universities.” My thought was: business schools do not provide independent, critical views of the pros and cons of business, as political science departments debate the pros and cons of government and politics. Nor do they prepare graduates for professions that license people to practice in return for adherence to elaborate ethical codes. (Compare schools of medicine and law.) Instead, business schools provide practical training that has direct economic value for each graduate. Should this kind of education be subsidized by the state and protected by tenure and peer-review, or would it be better offered by the marketplace? David Jacobs and Hugh Wilmott, two professors of business or management, have similar concerns, and both point me to resources on “critical management studies.”

2. The press, moral standing, and an anti-gay preacher. Much more recently, I asked whether television news stations and the Washington Post were justified in camping outside a church to see whether a minister (and former mayoral candidate) would apologize for anti-gay remarks. I wanted to emphasize that the press exercises power when it demands a response from an individual, and that power (while protected by the First Amendment) deserves moral scrutiny. Even if someone says a very bad thing, it doesn’t follow that he ought to be forced to apologize–or say “no comment”–on live TV. However, arguments by Mike Weiksner and Richard Russo have persuaded me that I picked a bad example. Given Rev. Wilson’s public role in our city, it’s appropriate for the press to hold him accountable. (I’ll also take this opportunity to emphasize that I personally abhor what he said–but that’s a different issue.)

3. “Democracy” or “civic renewal”? Harry Boyte of the University of Minnesota is a major influence on this blog and all my work. He responded recently to my series of posts about the civic renewal movement. His response is characteristically rich and provocative; I’ll consider some of his themes in subsequent entries. However, one of his suggestions is quite straightforward. The movement I describe, he says, should be named a struggle for “democracy.” That is a word with deep roots and broad, international appeal. “Civic renewal,” in contrast, sounds narrow and a bit obscure.

I agree with this, although I think I’ll continue to talk about “civic renewal” myself. That’s because “democracy” is such a broad term that it covers all kinds of things I disagree with, including the invasion of Iraq. While we should try to reclaim the best aspects of the word “democracy,” I don’t have enough influence to make much of a difference in how it’s used. I like “civic renewal” because anyone who understands it at all knows what it means; it unambiguously names work that I support. But I’d be happy if our work in favor of “civic renewal” fed a movement for “democracy.”