Barry M. Mitnick, Professor of Business Administration and of Public and International Affairs, has been awarded the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award. The Chancellor’s award annually recognizes teaching excellence by members of the University of Pittsburgh’s faculty.
“As an innovator, Barry is always willing to go outside the box, showing impressive creativity in the development of his courses,” says Arjang A. Assad, Henry E. Haller Jr. Dean. “Barry’s courses Market Manipulations: Bubbles, Crises, Robber Barons, and Corporate Saints and Business and Politics are original designs. Each course is offered at the undergraduate and graduate level, incorporates research from the relevant disciplines as well as Barry’s own research, and features experience-based learning opportunities that link the course content directly to current events.”
Market Manipulations, offered in conjunction with the University Honors College, received the 2019 Ideas Worth Teaching Award from the Aspen Institute—just one of only ten courses worldwide to be given this honor. This course uses events in business history to develop generalizations about patterns of business behavior. In other words, it transforms history into social science. Mitnick’s ultimate goal is not only for his students to understand how and why a particular historical event occurred, but to perceive and anticipate characteristic patterns in business management as well as market behavior. These patterns can then inform the student about the future and serve as cautionary lessons to avoid past mistakes.
For example, the course examines the characteristic behaviors and contexts of con artists, of bubbles that are managed for private benefit, of scams like Ponzi schemes, of how monopolies were constructed by industrialists of the late nineteenth century such as Carnegie and Rockefeller, and how all the major financial panics in U.S. history—from 1792 to 2008—originated and evolved, and the patterns they displayed in common. The methods of Carnegie and Rockefeller are contrasted with those of George Westinghouse, whose success also featured sensitivity to impacts on the lives of his workers.
Of particular relevance to the University of Pittsburgh is that so much of the history covered in the course remains tangibly present in the names, buildings, institutions, and monuments around campus—Carnegie, Frick, Phipps, Bigelow, Magee, Westinghouse, and more.
“Professor Barry Mitnick approaches teaching with passion and enthusiasm,” says undergraduate business student Grace Barker. “His passion in teaching his course has provoked a passion in myself to continue to study more about markets and financial history. Professor Mitnick is such a valuable asset to the University of Pittsburgh and anyone who has had the opportunity to learn from his research.”
In his course Business and Politics, Mitnick uses current developments in the interface of government and business to show characteristic patterns in that interface and to develop generalizations that can help students recognize such patterns as they develop in the future. Besides providing a solid introduction to the regulatory system in the U.S. and the patterns of interaction with it, his undergraduate course is designed to use a process of discovery. Students read and research the background of an article in that day’s Wall Street Journal selected by Mitnick for its relevance to course themes. Over the term, Mitnick shapes this experience-based content to illustrate such patterns. In the end, the articles build to a compelling whole, depicting important insights about business-government relations in the U.S.
Mitnick is also a five-time recipient of the Excellence in Teaching Award from the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business and College of Business Administration.
Mitnick’s innovative approach to teaching began decades ago in his teaching of business ethics. Over the years, Mitnick taught business ethics to thousands of Pitt undergraduate and graduate students. His course design resulted in the creation of the Pitt Business Review—an undergraduate student organization that is now affiliated with the University Honors College and for which Mitnick continues to serve as faculty adviser. The students enjoyed a class blogging exercise on current events in business so much that they wanted to continue even after the course had ended. For over a decade, Pitt Business Review’s online publication has published quality critical writing on current events in business and management, with a special focus on business ethics.
“Simply put, Barry is an incredible teacher, and a very caring professor,” says Assad. “Our school would be hard-pressed to find another professor who can match Barry’s commitment to student success and innovative teaching. We are truly fortunate to have him as a valued member of our Pitt Business community.”