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Fall 2000

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Zankel Professor integrates business and humanities

     In business, you can’t escape the humanities,” says Pushkala Prasad, “and I don’t think the humanities can escape business.” Skidmore’s first Zankel Professor of Management for Liberal Arts Students, Prasad believes the best education for business is one that combines the requisite financial skills with a broader perspective. Business schools don’t tend to offer that, she notes; nor do many liberal-arts colleges. “Skidmore is one of the few,” says Prasad, and that means her teaching philosophy fits right in. “I won’t be a maverick here.”
Zankel Professor Pushkala Prasad

     That was apparent to her in the official description of the Zankel Chair, which sought a scholar to “exemplify the affinities between the liberal arts and management.” The chair was established in 1998 with a gift from Arthur Zankel reflecting his belief that liberal arts students often end up practicing much more management and business than they expect. Zankel, a former Skidmore trustee and parent of two graduates, is general partner with the investment company High Rise Partners LP. Previously he was senior partner with the research and investment firm of First Manhattan Co., where he worked for thirty-five years.

     Prasad comes to Skidmore from Lund University in Sweden, where she was a professor for two years. She was an associate professor at the University of Calgary, Canada, from 1993 to 1998, and held visiting positions at the Helsinki School of Economics as well as MIT’s Sloan School of Management. She earned a Ph.D. in management from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1992 and an M.B.A. from Xavier Institute in Jamshedpur, India, in 1985. Prasad is a 1977 graduate of the University of Madras, India.

     With wide-ranging research interests in organization and administrative theory, Prasad is teaching “Foundations of Organizational Behavior” this fall and in the spring will teach two courses in Liberal Studies, one of which may be on workplace diversity. She recently concluded a five-year ethnographic study of the “diversity management” programs that have become trendy in corporate culture. Looking at the Canadian oil industry and the U.S. and Canadian insurance industry, Prasad and her research team observed cultural-sensitivity training programs and interviewed participants, managers, and the consultants running the programs. They found the programs to be largely cosmetic—feel-good programs that don’t effect fundamental change. Among employees, white males and most minorities viewed the efforts with skepticism and cynicism, while (in perhaps the most surprising result of the study) white females endorsed the programs, which, the researchers suggest, may help answer their needs for organizational inclusion.

     Prasad has lectured around the world and published extensively. She co-edited Managing the Organizational Melting Pot: Dilemmas of Workplace Diversity (Sage Publications, 1997) with Michael Elmes, Albert Mills, and Anshuman Prasad—her husband and frequent collaborator, who is on the faculty of the University of New Haven’s School of Business. This past spring she received a $240,000 grant from the Bank of Sweden’s Tercentenary Foundation for a study entitled “Narratives of Legitimacy in the Killing Industries: The Acquisition of Social Fitness among the Gun, Tobacco, Armament, Beef and Fur Industries.”

     Her research, which also explores technological change and employee resistance in the workplace, helps keep her busy some fourteen hours a day, but Prasad says, “It’s not work for me. I really enjoy scholarship.” That doesn’t mean she will be hidden away in her office. As Zankel Professor, she’ll work on building bridges with other disciplines throughout the college, says Roy Rotheim, chair of the management and business department. “She complements the direction this department has assumed: a management and business curriculum within—not next to—a liberal arts framework.” With her background in so many areas, Rotheim adds, “she brings a truly liberal arts approach to management studies.” —KG

 


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