Published: Dec. 15, 2016 By
Chris Leach

The CU Boulder Leeds School of Business this week announced $3.7 million in new gifts to support the Hernando de Soto Capital Markets Program. The program introduces first-year business students to foundational ideas in ethics, business, law and economics, including those of de Soto, a Peruvian economist who champions individual property rights as one of the cornerstones to economic empowerment for people in emerging nations.

The new gifts come from El Pomar Foundation, the Charles Koch Foundation and longtime CU Boulder supporters George Solich, through his foundation The Solich Fund, and Buz and Sherri Koelbel. (Solich and Buz Koelbel are also Leeds alumni). The gifts build upon those made earlier in the year from longtime supporters Bill and Jane Reynolds. The earlier gifts included an endowment of over $2 million and an additional $1.2 million over three years for operating funds.

Finance Professor Chris Leach, who led the development of the curriculum for the de Soto program and is the Deming Professor of Entrepreneurship, answered questions about the new program.

How did you approach developing the World of Business, the first course in the de Soto Capital Markets program?

We had a multi-disciplinary approach. Our faculty/instructor team represented diverse intellectual approaches from finance, ethics and social responsibility, and management and entrepreneurship. We all agreed that it was important to have a course that drove consideration of complex issues and different viewpoints.

When we reflected on the changes needed to redesign the existing World of Business course, we focused on what a business student needs to know in a foundational business course in the 21st century. We also considered how we needed to approach teaching so students could effectively retain the information and use it in different settings. It was tough at times working through very different teaching maxims, but we are really pleased with how students are responding to the material and their overall engagement.

What is Leeds trying to achieve for business students with the World of Business curriculum and the de Soto program?

Our students must ultimately solve business problems in a world where one approach rarely fits all circumstances and where there are multiple perspectives to any given situation. They will encounter situations where their critical thinking, problem solving and leadership skills will be needed to develop thoughtful and robust solutions. The de Soto program is about considering issues from multiple viewpoints. The program provides a learning environment which is highly engaging and starts to build critical thinking skills early in a student’s college education.

We kept the ethics foundation that was a part of the former World of Business since we all felt that was essential. We then introduced the modern theory and teachings of contemporary thought leaders including Hernando de Soto. Our teaching approach blends the best of multiple styles where each of the seven learning modules had four components—experiential introductions to real-world issues and challenges, lecture, case study and a debate. This really enhanced students’ ability to retain and apply the information to real world contexts. At the end of the day, we want students to be able to think through a situation and the complexities of its potential implications, and we’ve set a strong foundation to do that.

Does the faculty have full academic freedom and were any unique conditions requested by donors on the gifts in terms of recommended course materials or the hiring of faculty?

No. The gifts have no conditions attached on choosing curriculum or faculty, and faculty are free to explore a wide range of ideas in their classrooms. All parties came to the table affirming that academic freedom was paramount.

Will Leeds seek other gifts to support the de Soto program’s work?

Absolutely. This is just a component of a larger initiative and we would love additional funding.

What’s really exciting about the de Soto Capital Markets program is that we have been thinking about the best educational approach for quite some time, and it turns out that the overall business community is very interested in supporting education that provides the best in thought leadership. The support we have received isn’t because we support one viewpoint or mirror an ideology, but rather because we are presenting diverse viewpoints through an ethical lens. To top it off, we create a stimulating environment where students can learn and experience the practical implications of theoretical concepts.

Our thanks to all of our supporters, but that’s not why we are doing this. We’re doing this because it’s the best kind of teaching and learning—engaging, complex, challenging and not to be overstated, fun.