As a high school student in Seattle, Paul Harper was fired up about going to a historically Black college upon graduation. Inspired by the hit television series "A Different World," Harper became an avid reader of W. E. B. Du Bois and Cornel West, Du Bois' generational successor.
Soon, Harper was studying at HBCU Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., eventually earning a bachelor's degree in Religious and Philosophical Studies, then heading to graduate school to earn a Ph.D.
At some point during his graduate school pursuits, which included two years in the divinity school at the University of Chicago, Harper concluded he needed to broaden his focus in order to stay relevant and employable. He shifted gears, enrolling in the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, where he earned his M.B.A. with an emphasis in Ethics, Strategy and Entrepreneurship and a Ph.D. in Business Administration. The Darden School is known for its business ethics training.
"I valued liberal arts," Harper recalls. "The market didn't. If law schools are having problems, you know English departments are," he adds, referring to enrollment and employment trends in liberal arts fields.
Today, Harper, 43, is a clinical assistant professor of business administration, organizations and entrepreneurship at the University of Pittsburgh. He is one of less than a handful of Ph.D. academicians of color nationwide stressing ethics and values as an integral part of their teaching of entrepreneurship and feels his role for his generation and the one behind him is to strengthen their appreciation for these concepts while nurturing their interest and grasp of non-traditional business strategies.
"I thought I was going to be the next Du Bois," Harper says, reflecting on his childhood hero. Du Bois, the historian who helped put Fisk on the higher education map during his tenure there, was "the symbolism" of what Harper aspired to. West was the influence, he adds.
After nearly 10 years of post-graduate study, Harper says he realized the need to supplement the visions and callings of Du Bois and West with a strong entrepreneurship message, as today's generation of college graduates are determined to go into business on their own and earlier in their lives. Whether they succeed is another question.
Just as Du Bois and West saw themselves as part of the intellectual elite of their eras, Harper sees himself and his peers as the economic power intellectuals of their time.
"As effective and successful as the civil rights movement has been, the important issue [today] to African-Americans is economics" says Harper, noting Black America is still in a serious effort to recover from the nation's financial crisis of 2008. "The Black entrepreneur is going to lead us out this time--not the prophets, not the ministers. We need economic prophets this time."
Challenges for entrepreneurs
The challenges on the horizon are significant, notes Harper, adding that more institutions in general need to focus on entrepreneurship education and include a heavy dose of ethics and values education as part of the effort.
"Entrepreneurship is a very new discipline" he says. Unlike the proverbial goal of his parents' era--getting a job with a strong company and staying with it until retirement, often referred to as "gold watch time"--Harper says "it's not the goal of this generation to work for GE for 25 or 30 years."
Today's generation is interested in giving back to society by the time they reach age 25 or 30 and doing so through businesses of their own, Harper says. …