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Innovating Early and Often
This article originally appeared in the Bentley Magazine.
A real appetite for risk-taking. Dedication to a core set of values. Leaders who can articulate a vision and enlist others to the cause. The ability to adapt against changes in the world at large. These qualities have marked Bentley from day one and continue to pave the way for innovation.
DEFINING BUSINESS EDUCATION
Bentley’s original innovator was Harry Bentley. In establishing his school, he was out to change business education itself. Instead of learning basic tasks such as filing and bookkeeping, students would be fully immersed in a specialized field (accountancy) that recognized expertise (the certified public accountant credential).
The founder’s vision emerged from discontent with how accounting was being taught at his three prior institutions, the most recent being Boston University.
The founder’s vision emerged from discontent with how accounting was being taught at his three prior institutions, the most recent being Boston University. He wrote about the field and his teaching philosophy in two books, The Science of Accountants and Trends in Higher Education; the former is credited with stimulating the growth of accountancy as a profession. Faculty members who joined the Bentley School were required to write their own textbooks, owing to Mr. Bentley’s firm beliefs about accounting practice and the material best suited for the school’s students.
“Mr. Bentley excelled as a chief strategist for his school,” says Associate Professor of History Cliff Putney. “He wasn’t simply teaching the subject, he was elevating accounting from a trade without any particular qualifications to a licensed profession. His school really was a pathway to success.”
Mr. Bentley considered accounting an honorable profession and, through his writings, expected others to uphold high standards.
“He urged his readers to avoid the manipulation of inventory values and other sketchy bookkeeping practices,” explains Putney. “His works on accounting are imbued with what two historians have described as a ‘moralistic tone.’”
Fast-forward to the 1970s, when ethical lapses by corporations began making headlines. One early case in point is Ford Motor Company and the exploding gas tanks of its Pinto: Executives were alleged to have quashed — or at least ignored — reports that exposed the problem. Still, the term “business ethics” was largely missing from the corporate lexicon.
That did not stop W. Michael Hoffman, then chair of the Philosophy Department, from launching the Center for Business Ethics (CBE) in 1976 and weaving business ethics into courses throughout Bentley’s curriculum.
Almost immediately, the CBE held the first in a series of 10 national conferences that engaged leading thinkers to craft a vision of responsible business. In 1980, Hoffman collaborated with Thomas Donaldson of Loyola University of Chicago to establish the Society for Business Ethics, the primary academic association for the field. In 1992, Hoffman founded the Ethics Officer Association (now the Ethics & Compliance Initiative), which has become the leading organization for corporate ethics and compliance professionals.
Today, the newly named W. Michael Hoffman Center for Business Ethics is credited as a major influence in developing and advancing the business ethics movement in the U.S. and around the world. Companies are operating with greater transparency, equity, social responsibility and environmental stewardship. But as Hoffman says: “The journey has just begun.”
The university has always tried to model itself to supply workers needed in the marketplace, changing along with the economy. The mission started with Mr. Bentley himself. His school answered the call for accounting professionals, which had risen with the passage of federal income tax law in 1913, among other factors.
The mission started with Mr. Bentley himself.
Years later, the globalization of the business world would be the impetus for internationalizing the curriculum, campus community and student opportunities.
“The world of commerce has expanded,” observed then-President Joseph Cronin in 1991. He outlined a commitment to educate students toward “understanding the new world economy” with “a respect for other races and diverse ethnic groups.”
Bentley widened opportunities for students to study and work abroad, and committed to expanding international scholarships.
An important vote of confidence arrived in 2008. Bentley earned accreditation by the European Quality Improvement System (EQUIS), an international organization that benchmarks quality in business education. Only a handful of American business universities are accredited by EQUIS and the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).
Adding machines were introduced at Bentley around 1950; the 10-key portable machines were on the cutting edge of office technology at the time. The college’s first computer center opened in 1969. The late 1980s brought a host of tech changes to the business landscape: debuts of the World Wide Web, PowerPoint and tools to make processes easier, better and more accurate. Bentley moved to prepare graduates accordingly, with a first-of-its-kind requirement that students own portable computers.
There were significant changes to technology infrastructure under President Joseph Morone, who advocated for an education focused on “business, people and technology.”
In 1997, Bentley opened a Trading Room: the first of several hands-on learning labs with sophisticated hardware and software for studying a range of business disciplines. The Trading Room is now part of the Hughey Center for Financial Services, housed in the $20 million Smith Academic Technology Center.
ACADEMICALLY CONNECTED SERVICE
In the late 1980s — long before millennials were even thinking about college — an initiative was taking shape at Bentley to bring service into education.
Civic service and education have been foundations of societies across the world. Millennials in particular hold companies to a high standard of social responsibility. Some 87 percent of employees aged 20 to 34 feel encouraged to volunteer or participate in their company’s civic work, according to the 2014 Millennial Impact Report.
In the late 1980s — long before millennials were even thinking about college — an initiative was taking shape at Bentley to bring service into education. Students in a sociology course told stories of volunteering at a Boston shelter and made connections to their studies. The Bentley Service–Learning Center launched in 1991. Its twofold mission: enhance student learning through academically relevant service and work with local, regional and international nonprofit community partners in addressing important social issues. The key objective goes beyond volunteering: Service–learning initiatives are closely tied to students’ course work and integrated into the curriculum. The interaction with people of diverse backgrounds, including race, nationality, age and socioeconomic status widens students’ perspective and builds skills in communication and collaboration.
Bentley was also named No. 1 for Highest Freshman Retention Rate, No. 3 for Most Innovative Schools and No. 4 for Best Undergraduate Teaching among the regional universities in the “2019 Best Colleges” report.