Business law text promotes critical engagement

There are plenty of business law textbooks to go around, says Dr. M. Neil Browne, but they rarely present the law as a living, changing thing that citizens can actually shape.

Dr. M. Neil Browne
Dr. M. Neil Browne
Browne, economics, along with Dr. Nancy Kubasek, legal studies, and Dr. Bartley Brennan, a professor emeritus of legal studies, has co-authored the fourth edition of The Legal Environment of Business: A Critical Thinking Approach, published by Pearson Prentice Hall.

“All business students at all universities are required to take classes in the legal foundations of business,” Browne said. The authors’ goal is to show them that, “while the law does have a certain stability and skeleton, it is evolving and moving. We want to make it exciting to students and show them that they can be part of that movement.”

For example, he said, it used to be illegal for women to vote. That, along with many other long-held precedents, has changed as a result of citizen activists putting pressure on the courts and legislatures.

In other cases, he said, citizens’ input is sought, as when, before the Environmental Protection Agency sets regulations, it holds a period of public comment.

“You can participate,” Browne wants students to know. “We want them to avail themselves of the opportunities they have and not sit on the sidelines. And the instrument by which you do that is critical thinking.”

Applying critical thinking to legal concepts
Browne has been at the forefront of the critical thinking movement on campus and nationally. In The Legal Environment of Business, he first outlines the format for applying critical thinking, then includes a set of exercises at the end of each chapter. Chapter topics include environmental, labor, disability, anti-trust, property and tort law, as well as cyber law, intellectual property and product liability law.

By engaging in the exercises, students can “learn by action,” Browne said. They can apply critical thinking to the cases they encounter and begin to practice taking what they’ve learned and applying alternative arguments to what the law currently states.

“The law is a wonderful place to realize that reasonable people will disagree,” he said. In following debates among Supreme Court justices, for example, “as a learner, you can see that these learned officials are confused. They engage in the questioning process in which different viewpoints come to the fore, arguing back and forth, pro and con.”

The bigger picture
The overarching goal in adding critical thinking and moral reasoning to the core legal business curriculum is to “make business schools a part of the liberal arts tradition of the university,” Browne said. “Upper-level courses must reinforce general education concepts. Vocation is important but you must also be a well-educated person.”

Browne has made a mission of promoting the creation of the morally sophisticated, intellectually prepared student. The author and co-author of numerous groundbreaking books on critical thinking, he is the director of the IMPACT (Integrating Moral Principles and Critical Thinking) residential learning community.
March 27, 2006