Have Business Schools Gone Astray?

NY TimesA recent article in the New York Times asked the question, “Are Business Schools Failing?” The piece was prompted by the publicity push around a new book by three Harvard Business School professors, titled Rethinking the M.B.A.: Business Education at a Crossroads. In the book, the professors — Patrick Cullen, Srikant Datar, and David A. Garvin — argue that business schools are not turning out leaders, but rather analytics-heavy drones who lack a sense of responsibility to lead their organizations and their greater communities.

The book even goes so far to say that this systemic failure of graduate business programs contributed to the financial meltdown of 2008. While there’s a big difference between “contributed to” and “was the primary cause of,” we do agree with some of what they have to say.

As we have argued in this space before, even the best MBA program can only teach a student so much, and a great deal of a future business leader’s growth has to happen on the job. Anyone who thinks that a few dozen cases and a handful of spreadsheets can truly make someone ready to lead an organization — or even a department, or a team — is missing the bigger picture. More to the point, any company that hires these MBAs and wonders while they’re not all perfect Jack Welch clones right out of the box… Well, they’re either ignorant or are being lied to.

So, while we don’t disagree with any of what the book argues in this area (full disclosure: we’ve only read reviews of the book, not the book itself), we don’t think that this is necessarily anything new. What is more damning in our eyes is what the professors have to say about the students themselves (we quote the NY Times article):

Further diminishing the chances that M.B.A. programs will produce wise stewards of capitalism, students are both strikingly disengaged from classes and overly confident about their capabilities, the authors observe. Introspection is rare; avarice, rampant. Several deans reported to the Harvard researchers that the time students spend in, or preparing for, class has declined significantly — at one institution, to 30 hours a week in 2003-4 from about 50 in 1975. The authors add: “Rather than devoting themselves to academics, students were spending increasing amounts of time networking, attending recruiting events, planning club activities and pursuing the best possible job.” One unnamed dean is quoted as mourning: “The focus has shifted from learning to earning.”

If that’s true, that’s indeed sad, although the author of the NY Times article suggested that this isn’t really a new trend. (It’s like parents of every generation insisting that their kids are far less respectful than they were 30 years ago.) Whether or not it’s a new trend, if students’ focus must turn back towards academics, that change will need to come from the top. We’ll see if the leadership at each of the world’s top MBA programs responds.

If you’re thinking about applying to become an avarice-driven MBA student, call the business school admissions experts at Veritas Prep at (800) 925-7737, and we’ll gladly give you an initial assessment of your candidacy!

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