Xavier A. Torres de Janon
Is it possible to be an ethical, systematically aware social entrepreneur? I pose a legitimate question. The essential goal of ‘being’ an entrepreneur is the creation of a profitable enterprise, one which is capable of and adept at fully participating in capitalistic processes. Beyond the lofty, Admissions-pushed ideal that “all Hampshire College students are entrepreneurs in making their own education,” what we are talking about when we discuss ‘social entrepreneurship’ under capitalism is the creation of a functional, money-making enterprise. I know too many Hampshire students who will speak of the woes of capitalism, the unsustainability of free market economics, the horrific labor abuses imposed by neoliberal policy, the wars over oil and money the capitalist world promotes, the racial and gender violence such a system promotes, and so on. Then, the next day, these ‘socially conscious,’ supposedly systematically aware individuals, attempting to make change in the world, become Hampshire social entrepreneurs, new players in the world of capital, supply, demand, and – never forget – profit. My skepticism of the ethics of this conscious decision lies in this: if you are aware of the shortcomings of capitalism, why become an entrepreneur, and not an organizer? A founder of a non-profit? An actual creator of systemic change? Perhaps these students are attempting to ‘change the system from within,’ a hopeful endeavor that is perhaps over-idealistic. But, I digress.
The reality is that, apparently, our school now offers “Business and Entrepreneurship,” through our Center for Design (the Lemelson Building). With three professors engaged in this newest endeavor (two associate, one visiting, none permanent, all white men), this Area of Study promises a world that simply does not exist in our small, experimental, historically anti-business school. Among the list of ‘Sample Courses,’ the only one that is remotely business-related is “Social Entrepreneurship: Starting Your Own Socially Responsible Enterprise.” Although I might have ideological and personal objections to the entire concept of social entrepreneurship, my biggest frustration is that this Area of Study (particularly the big, bold, Business) at Hampshire College is just a facade. The school (consciously?) offers no academic courses on accounting, business law, financial management, international monetary systems, best investment practices, and so on, and the intermittent ‘economics courses’ are usually anti-mainstream economics and extremely critical of the world around us. How can a college possibly make a successful social entrepreneur if said individual is not exposed to the inescapable weight of money, laws, exploitation, networking, and one-upping of the business world through classes, but perhaps only instead to a critique of these systems? The conversation is a completely different one if Business and Entrepreneurship at Hampshire is targeted to high/middle-upper class students at the school, for whom money has never been an issue, and $1 million, post-college loans from relatives is normative (à-la-Trump). In other words, social entrepreneurship for those that can afford to recycle capital into new profitable horizons to be lovingly consumed by ‘progressive liberals.’
I have faced too many prospective students who want to study ‘entrepreneurship,’ who are enticed by the idea of ‘putting their ideas into action,’ and want to embody this Hampshire spirit. ‘Okay,’ I ask, ‘What ideas? What are you passionate about? Why Hampshire? What do you want to explore?’ The answer is sometimes simply “entrepreneurship;” that is, these students want to make change, change the world, be social entrepreneurs, with no content, context, passion or knowledge in their minds other than profit-making and an attraction to a school where no ideas are wrong, where you can (if you can find a way) continuously enroll in entrepreneurship classes, create independent studies on entrepreneurship, and then execute a profitable enterprise through your Div III. I am being exceptionally cynical, but my question remains: is Hampshire actually offering Business & Entrepreneurship, or is this a (very successful) publicity stunt? To close, a final, practical question: where does Business & Entrepreneurship even fit under our 5 Interdisciplinary Schools? Apparently, based on the affiliated faculty’s pages, under Interdisciplinary Arts (IA).