The Harvard Business Review published today a blistering critique of the education provided by most top business schools. Arguing that the elite MBA programs, with few exceptions, reward a narrow, frequently irrelevant, and academic research focus as opposed to a balance between practical experience, cutting-edge, professional research, and an integrated approach to business, authors Warren Bennis and James O'Toole of USC's Marshall School blast the typical business school faculty and curriculum.
I am certainly not going to argue against balance, the value of real business experience, and a professional focus to business school; I was surprised by a few aspects of this article:
- The article does not mention the practical focus of Michigan's MAP program, Darden's case method commitment, Tuck's dedication to integration, LBS' second year consulting project, or many of the other steps business schools are taking to encourage the real-world focus that Bennis and O'Toole advocate.
- The article looks at the mid-80's as a golden era of business education. I graduated UCLA's GSM (today the Anderson School) in 1979. It is true that many of my professors also worked as consultants, which Bennis and O'Toole say is not true today. If the authors are correct, students are missing out. At the same time, I also remember clearly that business schools were criticized then for their silo approach to MBA education and academic focus -- much the same argument that Bennis and O'Toole are making. When I today look at different schools' curricula, they look a lot more practical and multi-dimensional than what I remember. And UCLA at the time was considered a leader in teaching the "soft skills."
- The recent hiring news makes it hard for me to believe that b-school education is as irrelevant as Bennis and O'Toole make out.
Obviously, the schools can and should improve their programs. If professors are sheltered from the real world of business, they need to exit the MBA Ivory Tower. Business schools should provide a professional focus. And like all professional university programs, there is tension between the demands of research, practical experience, and teaching; B-school deans need to ensure that professorial egos don't destroy the balance,as Bennis and O'Toole argue is happening.
But the situation is not as bad and certainly not as new as they maintain.