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November 09, 2002


The other day I graded oral presentations given by accounting majors here at the midwestern university where I work. (This is part of my "moonlighting" job; my primary job at the moment is teaching two introductory literature courses.) The students had to create a "Balance Sheet Scorecard" for some company of their choosing, and present this to the class. I learned a few things:

First, one group presented on Aldi Foods, a midwestern discount grocer that keeps its prices low by carrying no name-brand goods, by keeping goods in boxes rather than arranging them nicely on shelves, by forgoing coupons, glossy advertisements, and all those damned stickers all over the shelves in most grocery stores. In short, Aldi is a grocery store that's geared to serve the working poor, primarily. Now, it was interesting to me that these Accounting students would choose to study this company, since it's rather unlikely that any of them come from the kind of income bracket that would shop at Aldi. Be that as it may, the group claimed that Aldi differentiated itself from its competitors by offering "the highest quality goods at the lowest possible prices." This is what stumped the class. How can Aldi claim to have the highest quality goods when it doesn't carry any name brands? they wanted to know. Why would people choose to shop at a place like Aldi when they could just go to County Market instead? I kid you not; the class honestly seemed stumped. My takeaway: These accounting students have zero knowledge of or interest in the class and wealth disparities in America. These people believe they are all middle class, and everything not "middle class" is invisible to them—like it doesn't exist.

Second, another group presented on Cadillac. Significantly, this group consisted of five men and one woman. They kicked off with a sort of mock commercial (complete with soundtrack) describing Cadillac's new models. One guy was the emcee, energetically extolling all the virtues of the cars, while his "assistant" strutted around the class with matchbox versions of each car; the assistant then posed up front holding the matchbox car aloft at different angles while the emcee finished discussing it. And do you think the "assistant" was one of the other 4 guys? Of course not; the assistant was the only woman in her group. Ok. That should be enough, right? But it gets better (or worse, actually): Each member of the group then spoke, the woman first. The woman ran her own slides (accounting students are addicted to powerpoint and all things M$), advancing them as she went, while all the men in her group stood back and watched her. Then, as each man was speaking, the woman stood beside him smiling and advancing his slides for him. I could not tell that anyone found this remarkable. I found it offensive.
My takeaway: These accounting students are either blissfully unaware of or consciously perpetuate patriarchal gender stereotypes. (And ok, I know there are some people out there that hear the word "patriarchy" and immediately dismiss whomever is saying it and whatever he/she might be saying, but, well, what other word is there to describe this?)

Overall takeaway for the day: Accounting majors (and Finance majors, in my experience as a teacher of business writing and lit classes) are replicants. At least at this university. They are the most rule-bound, normative, and complacent students I've known or worked with. They are also the most self-righteous about their values and beliefs. They don't just accept the status quo in all things, they embrace and extend it. It's scary and sad, but that's business for you, isn't it? This is exactly what these people are trained to do—establish norms and enforce them vigorously. And that's why it's so scary that the norms they're apparently all too ready to enforce are norms of social injustice, and gender and economic inequality. What's wrong with business in the United States? These are the future Harvey Pitts. And incidentally, my university's accounting program used to be a major feeder for Arthur Anderson Consulting. When I got here three years ago, a large number of my business writing students told me their dream in life was to work for Arthur Anderson, since so many of their predecessors in the program (and their friends) were already working there. But I'm just a grader...

Posted November 9, 2002 09:37 AM | general politics

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