The infamous BUSS2000: Does it really teach us to ‘lead’ and ‘influence’?

Does Business School’s marketing around student ‘employability’ hold up?

BUSS2000 is undoubtedly the most collectively hated unit in the University’s Business School. Its “uselessness” and “vague marking,” are common complaints in the halls of the Abercrombie Building. A scroll down Facebook page, USYD Rants, reveals an endless sea of roasts:“BUSS2000: a 13 week social experiment to determine how sycophantic business students can be” and “BUSS2000 is quite literally the most worthless unit that Usyd business school has to offer.” I held the same mindset myself while I was doing the unit and  bonded with my classmates by ridiculing it.

BUSS2000, also known as, ‘Leading and Influencing in Business’, is split into three ‘themes’: “1. Understanding Yourself, 2. Understanding Others, and 3. Leading and Influencing Others.” At first glance, the unit supports an increasingly corporatised business student stereotype denoted by personal branding and LinkedIn networking. The very title of the course is puzzling — ‘leading and influencing in business’ — are not skills easily picked up in the classroom.

While BUSS2000 attempts to be interactive, with ‘face-to-face meetings’ and ‘online modules’ replacing weekly lectures, this is offset by the confusion and frustration students often feel in response to the unit’s vague marking criteria.

An explanation of this student reaction can be understood through blogger Andrea Donderi’s theory of ‘Ask Culture vs. Guess Culture’. Donderi says: ‘Askers’ ask for favours half-expecting a ‘no’ in response while ‘Guessers’ only ask for favours when they are certain they will be met with a ‘yes’, and believe there is a huge expectation for them to comply to favours, and comply perfectly.

The New South Wales’ High School curriculum conditions students to be ‘Guessers’ — strict, syllabus-driven teaching and hyper competitiveness lead us to believe that answers must be reached by reasoning with ourselves to come to a conclusion. The standardised testing of NAPLAN and the HSC promote rote-based study techniques and push us inwards in our study habits, cut off from academic support. In effect, high school teaches us to run our own race.

Trained into this mindset, when we reach university, with its focus on discussion-fuelled lessons and student initiative, we find ourselves at a roadblock. For years, we’ve been taught to be ‘Guessers’ and the new reality is jarring.

That’s where BUSS2000 and it’s younger sibling BUSS1000 ‘Future of Business’ supposedly come in. Both aim to retrain students to become ‘askers,’ to ask without expectation of a reward or return — a skill which looks and sounds like confidence —  an increasingly valuable trait in the Business School’s eyes. Students, more than ever, are being prepared for a job early in university and BUSS2000 and BUSS1000, seen in the broader context of interdisciplinary project units, are part of the University’s attempt to make students into ‘askers’ in the hope of cultivating entrepreneurial skills and commerciality.

Students, adjusted to the individualistic curriculum of high school, react badly to all that being an “asker” entails — working with others, considering each group member’s opinions, managing skills and work ethic and reconciling individual with group agendas. The pursuit of ‘finding yourself’ and what learning style works for you, and how that works in a team dynamic, ultimately leave students catching up, rewiring their ‘guesser’ mentalities into ‘asker’ personalities, consistently left one step behind.

These subjects offered an opportunity for students to self-reflect, tarnished by the fact that flaws in course design went unacknowledged,  It’s easy for the Business School to dismiss students’ rants as ‘immature’ and us ‘not knowing better’. Realistically, these units could be structured better to suit the students in its classes. BUSS2000 is  adisruptive subject cloaked in the University’s wider employability agenda. It deserves to be scrutinised.

Despite trying to teach students to compromise, it seems that the staff at the Business School have yet to properly achieve this themselves. The vague course objectives in BUSS1000 and BUSS2000 cause extreme frustration, and the deeply subjective nature of the unit translates poorly into quantitative marking.

At least for now, the ‘employability’ USyd advertises is not gained from courses like BUSS2000. Instead, it is gained outside the classroom where students take matters into their own hands, dealing with the frustrating hurdles of University admin and a mix of poorly structured units.