Breaking Down Academic Silos: Stanford GSB Launches Corporations and Society Interdisciplinary Visitors Program

What do an adman and an investigative reporter have to teach us about corporations and society? Visiting experts challenge assumptions.

October 06, 2017

participants in an audience raising their hands

The new Corporations and Society Interdisciplinary Visitors Program brings cross-disciplinary thinking to keeping financial systems safe. | iStock by MichaelJay

Through her involvement in the debate over financial regulation after the 2008 financial crisis, Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor Anat Admati has come to appreciate the fact that a single-discipline perspective is too narrow and dangerous.

“Stepping out of my silo and engaging with research and people beyond my immediate discipline taught me a lot, and I want others to have the same experience. Cross-disciplinary thinking is also critical for Stanford — and for Stanford GSB in particular — to be able to make a positive impact in our mission to ‘change lives, change organizations, and change the world,’ ” says Admati, the George G.C. Parker Professor of Finance and Economics.

“Different perspectives and disciplines are essential to advancing research and teaching on the interaction of corporations and society,” says Jonathan Levin, the Philip H. Knight Professor and Dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Business. “This initiative is a welcome effort to bring in fresh and stimulating viewpoints and get discussions started among faculty members and students.”

Stepping out of my silo and engaging with research and people beyond my immediate discipline taught me a lot, and I want others to have the same experience.
Anat Admati

One of Admati’s initial projects to advance the agenda is the innovative Corporations and Society Interdisciplinary Visitors Program. Piloted last year with a focus on finance and society, this program brings to Stanford top experts with a range of backgrounds, expertise, and experiences to share their knowledge and perspectives. The visitors — who are academics and practitioners from business, government, civil society, and the media — engage with faculty members and students through group discussions, talks, class visits, and one-on-one meetings, for periods ranging from one day to a week.

The program is supported by the Stanford GSB Center for Social Innovation, in collaboration with other schools and centers throughout Stanford. The goal, Admati said, is to create the most wide-ranging conversation possible.

Interdisciplinary Visitors’ Program Faculty



The 2016-17 Interdisciplinary Visitors Program featured academics and practitioners with experience and expertise in law, economics, finance, policy, and the media. The guest speakers were enthusiastic about the program and enjoyed their interactions at Stanford.

Speaker Sarah Bloom Raskin, an attorney who has served as Maryland’s commissioner of financial regulation, a governor of the Federal Reserve Board, and deputy secretary of the Treasury, said, “Today’s challenges in finance do not fall into neat, confined silos, and Prof. Admati’s program recognizes that tackling these challenges will require interdisciplinary thought across deep wells of subject-matter expertise that exist in these silos.”

“Too often, academics are overly engaged in speaking amongst themselves. Journalists, by contrast, are often myopic and uninformed about the history and structural complexities of what we cover,” said Jesse Eisinger, a journalist and author who won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting in 2011 and visited Stanford in April. “So mixing journalists, practitioners, and academics from many disciplines makes for a rich educational environment.”

“I personally believe that corporate crime is best deterred by prosecution of high-level individuals, and that the Justice Department’s recent focus on prosecuting, instead, only the companies and/or their low-level employees is both unfair and unproductive,” said Jed Rakoff, a senior U.S. district judge for the Southern District of New York and the closing speaker in the pilot program last year. “But there has been very little serious research in this area, and Stanford might lead the way in filling this gap,” he continued. “As for students, it would be helpful to focus them more than previously on their future roles as ethical models for their employees and business associates.”

This is in keeping with the university’s goals, notes Jeffrey Pfeffer, the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior. “Expanding the scope of research and encouraging broader thinking are indeed among the objectives of the Interdisciplinary Visitors Program,” he says.

Pfeffer is part of the faculty team who has been involved in preparing both visitors series. The team includes representatives of multiple Stanford GSB academic areas, including finance, accounting, political economy, and organizational behavior. They expect many students and faculty members to engage with the 2017-18 visitors.

2017-18 Visitors

Franklin Foer

National correspondent for The Atlantic, the former editor of The New Republic, and author of the newly released book World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech

Peter Andrew Georgescu

Romanian-born American business executive, author, onetime political prisoner, and chairman emeritus of Young & Rubicam

Lee Drutman

Political scientist, an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University, and author of The Business of America Is Lobbying: How Corporations Became Politicized and Politics Became More Corporate

Jerry Davis

Associate dean for business and impact at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and author of Managed by the Markets: How Finance Re-Shaped America and The Vanishing American Corporation: Navigating the Hazards of a New Economy

Kara Stein

Securities and Exchange Commission commissioner and a former Senate staffer

Bethany McLean

Investigative reporter and contributing editor to Vanity Fair, known for her books and articles on the Enron scandal and the 2008 financial crisis

Luigi Zingales

Robert C. McCormack Distinguished Service Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance, University of Chicago Booth School of Business

Fiona Scott Morton

The Theodore Nierenberg Professor of Economics at the Yale University School of Management and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Economics at the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice

2016-17 Visitors

Frank Partnoy

George E. Barrett Professor of Law and Finance at the University of San Diego

Sarah Bloom Raskin

American attorney and regulator; former member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, and former United States Deputy Secretary of the Treasury

Sir John Vickers

Professor of Economics and Warden of All Souls College, Oxford University

Jesse Eisinger

American journalist and author; winner of the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 2011

Jed Rakoff

Senior United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York

“Our ultimate purpose is to get better at what we do and to make a positive difference,” Admati said. The Interdisciplinary Visitors Program is just the first step in that direction.

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