Book review: Why Are You Here and Not Somewhere Else – Selected Essays


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This book presents a short set of essays by a Harry L. Davis, professor and administrator at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. He joined this institution in 1963 and became one of the most influential figures in business education in the United States and abroad. He helped develop the first core leadership program of any top-rated MBA institution in the United States and the Management Lab at the University of Chicago. Davis also helped Booth Business School pioneer its first international campus in Barcelona in 1983, where he served as deputy dean for a decade.

The book presents relevant and useful moments of insight, such as the essay on rethinking management education or the concluding essay, from which the volume’s title is taken. On the whole, the essays come across as the reflections of a career in professional education that has tried to highlight the teaching of innovation and creativity. The main quotes I would highlight out of this book, and which are related to the University of Chicago’s academic excellence and hallmark, are: 

“William Raney Harper, the first president of the University of Chicago, wrote in 1892 about the ways in which the university should differentiate from other universities… Harper wanted the university to reach out beyond its Gothic walls to make its unique brand of education available… and an important part of this mission was that in extending the university’s reach, it must not compromise its academic standards.3 

“Under Harper’s leadership, the university immediately began a wide range of extension efforts, including affiliations with smaller colleges throughout the United States, correspondence courses, the University of Chicago Press, evening classes in downtown Chicago, and public lectures by regular faculty in cities and towns west of Chicago.”3

“…while transportation technology has evolved, it is instructive and critical for today’s interpreters of his vision to explore whether Harper would find the university’s presence in Singapore consistent with his vision… This initiative is totally consistent with the university’s one-hundred-plus-year mission. Harper’s only surprise would be that in twenty-two hours the faculty could get to the other side of the globe rather than down the railroad track to Kansas or Minnesota.”3

“The University of Chicago’s Andrew Abbott begins his book, The Systems of Professions: ‘The professions dominate our world. They heal our bodies, measure our profits, save our souls’… I have great respect for the professions.”5

“According to a commonly recognized definition, a professional is someone in possession of a body of theoretical knowledge and the art of applying it… Countless graduates from this institution have demonstrated the payoff from high levels of scientific insight and integrity and from having the intellectual rigor to distinguish between noise and what is really important and enduring.”5

“The University of Chicago has a particular place in its heart for those who seriously pursue risky ideas… The audacious founder of this university, William Raney Harper, crafted a vision of a great research university built in a swamp on the Midway, freed faculty to do research… initiated the quarter system, and created high-quality extension programs outside of Hyde Park.”6

“William Raney Harper held a philosophy about people and learning. He believed that those who wanted to learn and had the capacity of learning should have access to the university’s faculty even if they couldn’t study full-time on campus.4

“… the course catalogue for the University of Chicago’s Extension Division was for many years called The Compleat Gargoyle… Margaret Fallers, who was an associate provost of the university, took pleasure in sharing with others that one of her greatest joys was perusing The Compleat Gargoyle…”4

Conceptual knowledge is acquired through the formal instructor and learning experiences typically associated with educational institutions. A solid foundation of conceptual knowledge is essential to effective performance and is acquired most effectively within educational institutions.”1

“Individuals acquire domain knowledge by working at their jobs in particular firms and industries… takes time to acquire and is not necessarily transferable to other areas… Yet such area-specific, ‘practical’ expertise is critical to performance.”1

“Conceptual and domain knowledge are critical for high levels of performance, but they are not sufficient. Knowledge must be translated into action, and that requires action skills… The value of such action skills lies in the ability to achieve desired outcomes. Without action skills, conceptual and domain knowledge cannot lead to high levels of performance.”1

“Knowledge and skills need to evolve across time, and this depends heavily on how managers learn through experience… Insight skills accelerate the acquisition of both domain knowledge and action skills as well as the application and updating of conceptual knowledge.”1 

“Practicing insight skills can improve action skills; these, in turn, can highlight the need to revise or acquire additional conceptual and domain knowledge. In this sense, the student or manager can master the skills of lifelong learning… The concept of students as active learners, taking advantage of their own development, is central to our framework.”1

“These ideas can be applied immediately in executive education programs with ‘sandwich’ structures that intersperse periods of formal schooling and work… This arrangement allows individuals to share their learning experiences across time.”1

“The chance of intellectual discovery is significantly increased when intense dialogue takes place among members of this community.”2

“Universities have a role in influencing the outside world, and the outside world has a role in influencing universities… Graduates stand to benefit from periodic updates of their formal education. There is also a need for graduates to acquire new knowledge as their careers develop.”2

 

Some of the Essays inside this book: 

1 – Rethinking Management Education: A View from Chicago with Robin M. Hoghart. Davis, Harry L. (2013). The University of Chicago Press.

2 – The Living University. Convocation Address, 394thConvocation. University of Chicago. August 24, 1984.

3 – Breaking Rules and Following Rules. Keynote address given for the opening of the Executive MBA Program in Singapore on September 15, 2000. The University of Chicago Graduate School of Business.

4 – The Compleat Strategist. Keynote address given on October 6, 2000, at the 5thAnnual Alumni Event sponsored by the University of Chicago, Graduate School of Business, Sheraton Chicago Hotel.

5 – The Professional and the Amateur. Convocation Address, 465thConvocation, University of Chicago, June 10, 2001.

6 – Being Silly, Seriously. Convocation Address, 481stConvocation, University of Chicago, June 12, 2005.

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