Professor discusses human rights addition to SternPosted on September 23, 2013 | by Michael Domanico
Michael Posner, a former assistant secretary in the State Department, is spearheading the creation of a human rights center at the Stern School of Business with Sarah Labowitz, also formerly part of the State Department. WSN sat down with Posner to discuss the idea behind the center and its mission.
Posner said he and Labowitz came to NYU because of its academic resources.
“It made sense to think about a university because of the resources and ability to look at these issues in a multidimensional way,” Posner said.
In the summer of 2012, Posner brought the idea to NYU President John Sexton who directed Posner to Stern dean Peter Henry.
“[Henry] said these are not things that we’ve been discussing directly, but the approach is very similar to what we’re trying to do at the business school,” Posner recalled. “I think maybe 20 professors have come to us to say [they] really want to figure out how to work with [us].”
Undergraduate and graduate courses available through the center will “integrate human rights into the business reality,” focusing on topics like the recent factory collapse in Bangladesh.
“In the 21st century, smart, global businesses need to be attentive to a range of social issues,” Posner said. “The world is changing at a very fast pace, and I think companies that don’t think about these issues leave themselves in a disadvantageous position.”
Stern sophomore Alex Shypula said a human rights center advances into Stern’s socially aware business school.
“It fits naturally within the framework Stern has already set up within its business in society program,” Shypula said.
One of the major focuses of the center will be empowering women domestically and abroad.
“I think it’s inescapable that the empowerment of women is a factor in the success of a society,” Posner said. “If white guys like me are not part of this discussion, then we’re not going to make the progress we need to make. I think part of the advantage of being in the business school is we can bring in business leaders, many of them men, and begin to think about what’s the kind of [human] rights approach to these issues.”
But the idea of incorporating human rights issues into the study of business will not be the sole responsibility of the center.
“[The goal is] to integrate it and make it part of the environment here so that people, whatever their subjects, start to think about the human rights dimension of what they’re doing,” Posner said.
For Posner, much of his professional life has been spent exploring the human rights dimension on a variety of issues, from political asylum to Internet freedom. He references his own personal history with the Holocaust, which affected members of his family, and its influence on his focus on human rights.
Posner hopes that other business schools will follow Stern’s lead in examining the intersection of business and human rights.
“Our ambition is that in four or five years there will be a number of business schools either undertaking a human rights center or beginning to talk about it,” he said. “Sometime in the spring, we plan to bring together some professors from other business schools to tell them what we’re doing and to try to encourage them to think within their own institution how to do this. The more this is replicated elsewhere, the more successful we’ll be.”
Michael Domanico is a news editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.