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Graduates from the business school celebrate during Harvard University's 359th Commencement Exercises Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts May 27, 2010.
Reuters/Adam Hunger
Because they’re worth it.
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The 20 most interesting business school classes in the world, with links to their syllabi

By Lila MacLellan

Asked to make a list of things that feel “ripped from the headlines,” you might include episodes of television’s Law & Order or videos by rappers like Childish Gambino.

Increasingly, university syllabi also belong in that company—and according to the Aspen Institute, a US-based global think tank concerned with big-ticket world topics, including economics, politics, health, and equality, that’s progress.

Every year, the Aspen Institute honors forward-thinking professors with the Ideas Worth Teaching Awards, to “celebrate curricula that bring to life the promise of meaningful work in business.” This year, the institute said, the researchers and academics behind its Business and Society Program (BSP) “focused on critical social issues ripped from the headlines—populism, water scarcity and artificial intelligence among them—and illuminate how and why these issues are business issues.”

The experts at the Aspen Institute appreciate that business students are learning, for example, “How ‘Elites’ Became One of the Nastiest Epithets in American Politics,” by reading that New York Times story for class. They believe that issues like homelessness deserve to be part of the curriculum for a course on regional economics, and that business students should know how to connect business and management theory to the events depicted in popular films like Margin Call (2011), about the start of the great recession of 2008.

This year, says Claire Preisser, associate director of Aspen BSP, the prizes may have even more relevance. “At a time when business leaders face intense scrutiny about their role in social issues, these award-winning faculty are bravely challenging the ‘norms’ of what is taught in business school—and creating leaders who can navigate a highly uncertain environment,” she said in a news release announcing the prize winners.

Here’s the alphabetical list of the courses recognized this year, along with the names of the instructors and schools that offer them. Each link will take you to a PDF containing the syllabus for the selected course:

Alternative Economic Models

Sandrine Stervinou, Audencia Business School

Business Ethics: Critical Thinking Through Film 

Jadranka Skorin-Kapov, Stony Brook University College of Business

Economic Growth, Technology, and Structural Change

Peter Kriesler, UNSW Business School, University of New South Wales

Economic Inequality and Social Mobility

James R. Freeland and R. Edward Freeman; Darden School of Business, University of Virginia

Fault Lines and Foresight

Regina M. Abrami, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Human Capital Sustainability

Patrick McHugh, School of Business, George Washington University

Impact Investing and Social Finance

Sara Minard, D’Amore-McKim School of Business, Northeastern University

Intrapreneurship: Leading Social Innovation in Organizations

Jerry Davis and Chris White, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan

Issues in CSR 

Talia Aharoni, Coller School of Management, Tel-Aviv University

Management of Services: Concepts, Design, and Delivery

Zeynep Ton, Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Peer to Peer Economies

Melissa L. Bradley, McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University

Prospering Over the Long-Term

Tima Bansal, Ivey Business School, Western University

Reimagining Capitalism: Business and Big Problems

Rebecca Henderson and George Serafeim, Harvard Business School, Harvard University

Sustainability & Environmental Accounting

Dror Etzion, Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University

Sustainability Tools & Processes for New Initiatives 

Robert Sroufe, Palumbo Donahue Graduate School of Business, Duquesne University

Sustainable Business In Iceland

Andrew J. Hoffman, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

Technological Change at Work

Adam Seth Litwin, School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cornell University

The End of Globalization?

David Bach, Yale School of Management, Yale University

Urban and Regional Economics

Jaime Luque, Wisconsin School of Business, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Why Business?

Matthew T. Phillips, James Otteson, and Adam S. Hyde, School of Business, Wake Forest University