Diversity in business: Sterling Schoen describes the origins of The Consortium

Few records of The Consortium’s early history survive, particularly those that articulate Sterling Schoen’s motivation for founding the organization. This is an exception. Dr. Schoen discusses some of what he saw in the early 1960s that motivated him to pursue greater diversity in business in this letter, written in 1996 on the occasion of Wally Jones’ retirement as the second director of The Consortium.

The letter is written to Alfred Edwards, then a management professor at the University of Michigan and an advocate for the work of The Consortium on campus. This letter was lightly edited to improve readability here and conform with some modern style conventions. A link to a PDF of the original letter is linked at the bottom.

1 May 1996

Mr. Alfred Edwards
University of Michigan
701 Tappan Street
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109

Dear Mr. Edwards:

Alfred Edwards, former management professor at the University of Michigan.

Alfred Edwards, former management professor at the University of Michigan.

I am glad that you included me in the list of participants in celebrating Wally’s retirement. He has done a superb job and I am very pleased to be able to help acknowledge it.

Thank you for sending me background information on The Consortium. While I have not participated in any of its activities and heard nothing of the organization since I resigned to return to full-time graduate school teaching, I have been able to keep in touch through alumni and friends.

Few people are able to recognize what happened in America in the 1960’s. While I was at the University of Chicago on a post-doctoral fellowship in 1962–63, I witnessed the burning of Chicago. And, at that time Saul Alinsky was sounding the call for a more widespread and active civil rights agenda.

It was there that I first conceived of the notion that our business schools might take a more active and constructive role in promoting equal opportunity employment in our country. I soon realized that Washington University by itself could make little impact on the problem, and so the idea of a consortium of leading universities was conceived.

It required almost two years of planning and negotiating to get to the point where we were able to conduct a Feasibility Conference, which, as it turned out, concluded that the consortium was both desirable and feasible. We were fortunate to bring to that conference leaders of the black educational community, including Dr. Hugh Gloster of Hampton University, Dr. Benjamin Mays and many others. Ms. Margaret Bush Wilson, the chairperson of the NAACP was there, along with the vice presidents of two universities and the chancellor of Washington University, Dr. William Danforth, Senator John Danforth, top-level managers of many corporations, and the top level officers of leading foundations, including the Ford Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, both of whom subsequently became sponsors.

There is one person to whom we have never given adequate recognition in all of this, Dr. John Ervin, dean at Washington University. It was he who devoted many hours over  more than a year in helping me fine-tune the working paper that brought the project to the attention of so many. It also was he who lent his good name to the undertaking with the consequence that leading Black educators participated in the Feasibility Conference.

And, they, in turn, also lent their good names to the project. Events changed very rapidly those early years. As an example, the Consortium modified its name three times between 1966 and 1970s!

The Ford Foundation made a major grant on December 8, 1966. On December 15, we were out recruiting students and raising funds for admissions in the fall of 1967. As you point out in your memorandum, we were able to find and fund 20 students who accepted our invitation.

And, of course, Wally came on board the summer of 1967 as a member of the staff to conduct our first summer studies program for the new students. It was all uphill, but we slowly obtained both the confidence of students and the support of corporations and foundations. Wally was an important element in the success that The Consortium attained during those early years.

Best wishes for a joyous celebration on June 3.

Dr. Sterling H. Schoen, PhD
Professor Emeritus of Management
(MBA and PhD, University of Michigan)