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Cindy A. Schipani's primary research interests are in the area of corporate governance, with a focus on the relationship among directors, officers, shareholders and other stakeholders. Her research has included analysis of directors' duties utilizing tools of financial economics, consideration of specific issues confronting directors of financial institutions, analysis of the corporate fiduciary duties of care and loyalty, issues of liability for environmental violations and ethical links between corporate governance and sustainable peace. She has served as the Louis and Myrtle Moskowitz Research Professor in Law and Business and as Co-director of the University of Michigan Business School Corporate Governance Project sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Professor Schipani has received a number of invitations to present her research nationally and internationally. She has also received numerous awards for her research, including the Academy of Legal Studies in Business National Award for Excellence and its Holmes-Cardozo Research Award.
What is your research on? Could you give us a little background info?
Sure, there’s two projects right now that are ongoing. One I call positive business practices and this one has been multi-focused, it’s been ongoing for a few years. One aspect is on giving workers a voice in the workplace, this is both for their own wellbeing as well as productivity of the business. Another involves a survey that students have helped with and this survey involves graduates from business school in the U.S and Europe. What we were trying to get at is their (employees) perceptions of voice in their workplaces. These are all people that work and have a business degree and they’ve been out a little while and they feel that they can speak up when there’s a problem. And what I was trying to test with this was to see if there’s a difference between Europe and the United States, because in Europe there are many more protections from termination from your job whereas in the United States it’s termination at-will mostly and you can be terminated just because your boss walked in and decided to bring in his or her own people. So we wondered if having more job security would promote more speaking up or feeling more comfortable about speaking up. And then we also were looking at this across men and women, who speaks up more? So that’s some of my positive business practices research. The other research project that I have ongoing right now with a student is involving corporate scandals and what I am trying to get at is why does this keeps happening? And what’s the board of directors doing about it? The question in my mind is there is some kind of group think going on... Are they ignoring red flags? Is there a voice issue? (do people feel confident speaking up) Or is it even something worse? Are they complicit? Is it “yeah we’re making a lot of money here and we don’t really want to look under the covers” yeah there’s a lot of red flags but let’s keep making money for the share-holders. There’s such a pressure for stock market prices running so much of the corporations and I would imagine there’s also pressure on the chief suite and the board as well. People in high places have a role of oversight and I don’t know that it’s working and I’m trying to get a little bit at the psychology. My background is law and I’m at a business school. I don’t have a psych background other than 100 years ago in my early days of undergrad, so UROP students have been very helpful. I'm also trying to get at some psychology, some sociology of what goes on in high powered groups and performance, so those are the two main things right now I’m looking at. And also we’re looking at some of the gender scandals and what’s been going on with those boards.
What led you to become a UROP research faculty mentor? You’ve been here for a long time, when did you decide? How did you get involved?
That’s a good question, I should have gone back and looked to see when I started - I started a long time ago and then had a little bit of a break and then had been very active in it the last 10 years or so. My work had traditionally been mostly legal research so I hired law students and research assistants, I needed someone already trained in legal research to help me look at cases and stuff at first, but then when I started going these other paths with some collaborations with professors in management and other fields, I thought you know there are various aspects like the psychology aspect and running some statistics that undergrads are quite capable of and I thought it would be great to have the opportunity to work with someone one-on-one (and I work with my mentees or research one-on-one, so there’s not a team, there’s a meeting) every week we meet and go over what they’ve accomplished and discuss next steps, I thought “undergrads can do this” I can learn a lot from them and they have more knowledge in the fields that I was trying to branch out to. That really motivated me to look at this and have that opportunity to work one-on-one with other talented minds. One of my daughters had a good research experience at a small liberal arts college and I saw how that impacted her too, and that’s another thing that really motivated me to give students a similar experience. I thought to myself “yeah, I could work on the other side of this, I could do this.”
I think you’ve already touched on this a little bit, but we’ll revisit it if you have more to add. What’s the role of the student in your research?
Mostly they’re doing sort of library and online research, then they’re writing up their research and their analysis - their conclusions on what they found. Some of it is sort of current events, some it is right now digging into the names of boards and directors of people that have been involved in scandals, trying to get at what their composition is like… another project that students sort of helped me on was drafting a survey helping navigate IRB approval (institutional research board). Students help draft it, they help write statistical analysis of the survey responses and then they take those responses and look for the interesting results from that and then they analyze it and then put together their own thoughts and comprehensive analysis.
Can you recall a time where you had a great experience with a mentor?
You know that was probably one of the more interesting questions because I never had a formal mentor, but I do have people that I sort of thought of as mentors, but they may not have known that I was thinking of them in that way. I usually reached out to senior colleagues. One of the things I picked up from them was being open to ideas, and listening to advice along the way. Students often come up with great things that kind of take another turn in the research and I like to let them follow their heart, sometimes I can’t let them follow it as much as I want because I have to get something done but other times they can take off on what starts off as a tangent and then it becomes very real and then were able to take the project off in that direction. So what I like to do in my one-on-one meetings is ask what other ideas they have and where they want to take it. It’s kind of fun for me and I hope it helps them.
What do you enjoy most about being a research mentor?
Well, I love the one-on-one time, I only take one or two students a year so I can do that. I love seeing the “aha” moments that they sort of have when they come up with an idea that I want to take off on… the expressions and the excitement. The students come in very excited. My projects have historically been in high demand. Those “aha” moments really bring a lot of joy. It’s been a valuable experience and I hope the university continues it forever.
What advice do you have for current UROP students?
Ask questions - know your audience though. Have an idea of how approachable your professor is, but I am assuming if they’re involved with UROP they are pretty open to ideas. For my students at least, I like them to ask questions, I would rather them not spend a week or two struggling in a spot where they just don’t know what to do next. Message me. I want open door communication and I respond as quickly as I can, sometimes not as quick as I would like to, but yeah, ask questions… bring your creativity, bring your talents and don’t be afraid to suggest something new. Be diligent, keep good track of your sources, cite them correctly, take your research very seriously - plagiarism is a big deal. Continue to bring enthusiasm to the projects, that’s why mentors are doing this, they want to help.