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Hiding Skeletons in the Closet is Bad for Business

Updated: 5 days ago

Earlier this month, Harvard University hosted a conference on the historical connections between universities and slavery. This capped a long string of admissions by institutions of higher education, including Yale, Brown, Princeton, Georgetown, Columbia, and Harvard, of their involvement in the "peculiar institution." "Only by coming to terms with history," said Drew Gilpin Faust," Harvard's president and a respected scholar of the Civil War, "can we free ourselves to create a more just world."

Such a stance is to be expected from universities, who are supposed to be committed to unfettered inquiry. But what about for-profit enterprises? Many have their own skeletons in the closet -- whether in the form of connections to slavery or complicity with the Nazi regime, or less sinister but still embarrassing missteps such as accounting scandals, price-fixing, product recalls, or white-collar crime. Shouldn't they, too, confront their darker chapters?

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John Seaman is the founder and CEO of Saybrook Partners. Arielle Gorin, a Saybrook Senior Consultant, is currently researching a history of the Ford Foundation.


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