Professor for a block
By Dean Riesen ’79
A couple of years ago I approached the administration and department of economics and business about teaching a block at Cornell. Eventually we put together a plan: I was to create a course that would bring my experience in the corporate world and mix that with an academic review of best practices in corporate leadership, governance, and business ethics.
That was the easy part. Next I was given many rules and regulations about the course, which was given the name ECB 275: Leadership and Corporate Governance. The only problem was that no textbook existed for such a course. So I worked with the Harvard Business School Press and 17 articles, 23 case studies, two books, and nine months later I had the materials.
Next step: I wanted to provide class notes, something Professor David Osterberg had done for me in Intermediate Macroeconomics. How would I do this? Powerpoint! My wife, Bambi Hull Riesen ’82, and our daughter did the typing while I did the writing. We finished the Friday before class started.
The college put me up in Collin House, the large house near the President’s House. Some of you may remember your first wine and cheeser at Dr. Bill Carroll’s apartment in Collin House—I do.
The first day … wow, I needed to teach/perform for three hours! I had never done that before, and it gave me a greater appreciation for my professors. Each of the 18 days required an hour of pre-class preparation, three hours of lecture, grading daily papers, and office hours. I sat at the faculty table in the Ratt on a regular basis which was a treat for all of us, I think. The rest of each day I had planned to keep up on my normal business activities—but there never was enough time. After dinners with faculty or friends, I was exhausted each night when I went to bed. That’s when I noticed the trains. It’s a beautiful sound and I think there are more of them than when I went to Cornell. Of course maybe I was more distracted in 1979.
Cornell today is much more international than when I attended. As part of the course we had a case study about Nike and child labor in Vietnam and another regarding IKEA and labor conditions in India. I didn’t expect to have students who would have on-the-ground knowledge, but there were two students from Vietnam and one from Nepal in the class. Many of my students had been overseas. When discussing a case study about Chiquita Bananas in Colombia one student talked about her experience on a banana plantation in Central America.
Tests were the worst part of the experience. I felt like I was doing something bad and felt sorry for the students. I had never written a test, so I talked with my college advisor, Craig Allin. After an absence of more than 30 years, he again gave me great advice and we all survived the two tests.
Now it’s over. What a great experience! Would I do again? I’m not sure.