“What’s Really Wrong with US Business Schools,” by USC’s Harry and Linda DeAngelo and the University of Rochester’s Jerrold Zimmerman, rebuts the Bennis and O’Toole article in Harvard Business Review. That
article criticizes business schools for over-emphasizing research and
placing ivory tower theoreticians in the classroom as opposed to
business practitioners. The DeAngelos and Zimmerman article is
summarized in Businessweek‘s “A Rank Offense to B-Schools?”
was admittedly unimpressed with the Bennis and O’Toole critique, mainly
because I didn’t feel they substantiated their allegations well.
I didn’t see any statistics showing how many professors lack the kind
of experience they feel is so important. I suspect they didn’t
include the numbers, because the numbers would show that b-school profs
serve on boards, consult, and indeed are heavily involved outside the
Academy. But if someone wants to do a dissertation and prove me
wrong, be my guest.
In the DeAngelo and Zimmerman diatribe, I managed to find something to agree with:
more reasonable view is that business, like economics, engineering, and
journalism, has aspects of both a profession and an academic
discipline, and schools must therefore strike a balance between
excessive vocationalism, on the one extreme, and pure science, on the
But beyond the above truism, I found a lot
more wrong with this article than right. First of all the article buys
into the b-schools are irrelevant or dysfunctional mantra. If they are
so irrelevant why is hiring up?
Why have MBA salaries risen? Certainly MBA education can and should be
improved, but there is a long road between “can be improved” and
In contrast to Bennis and O’Toole the
DeAngelos and Zimmerman see the immediate problem as a de-emphasis on
research and a turning away from what should be the business school’s
primary focus: providing a “rigorous conceptual framework.” The villain
in this loss of focus: The rankings, specifically Businessweek’s
These authors have other gripes:
- Business schools focus too much on full-time MBA programs. (Which is hard to believe because EMBA programs are cash cows and part-time programs have grown in popularity.)
- Shrinking PhD programs.
- An overemphasis on teaching.
DeAngelos and Zimmerman blame all these alleged signs of dysfunction on
the nefarious rankings and the schools’ shameless pandering to them.
agree with the authors that the rankings do encourage short-term
thinking on the part of the schools and that thinking can be
dysfunctional. Frankly, on occasion so do grades in schools, incentives
on the job, share value in management, and the welfare system. But we
are not getting rid of any of them. In fact, customer
satisfaction surveys, and that is what some rankings are, especially
the BW rankings, can also lead to a short-term focus, should we ban
reviews, Consumer Reports, and JD Powers?
authors seem to feel that consumer satisfaction, ie the satisfaction of
students, alumni, and employers, is irrelevant and should not influence
b-school policy. I would hate to invest in a company that had that
attitude towards its customers.
There’s a lot more to disagree with here, but this post is getting too long.
I am tired of the academic establishment blaming the rankings
for everything that ails them while touting their school’s ranking when
it does well. Take a little responsibility. Create a forum, perhaps
through GMAC, that provides better data than the media. Provide ROI
stats for 3, 5, 10, and 15 years after graduation, and perhaps adjust
for different industries and career paths so that schools with more
graduates going into NFP work are not penalized. Don’t withhold
information, provide more data. But stop whining about consumer access
to certain information.
Then have a little backbone. Don’t chase
every intellectual fad (See the articles pouring out of academia
during the dot-com craze.) Don’t over-emphasize the rankings, but
recognize they do reflect what is important to your constituents and
that you need to balance your customers’ short-term needs with the
long-term mission of a top-notch business school.