The Problem With a Business Education

The MBA is a degree that is losing its allure. Anybody can get one by going to night school for a few years. One school in Florida didn't have an accredited undergrad program, which infuriated students who wanted to pursue an MBA, so they developed their own unaccredited MBA program. Then they tried to sell Mrs. Businesspundit on how easy it was. Now The Economist has an article about b-school criticisms.

A rather different complaint is that business schools are increasingly pulled in two directions. They want to teach students practical relevant skills. They want their research to come up with important, novel findings. But the gap between teaching and research grows ever wider.

In her presidential address to the Academy of Management last year, Jone Pearce of the Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Irvine, drew attention to the divide between the scholarly world of research and what she called "folk wisdom": the insights conveyed in the classroom. "Many of us", she told her fellow practitioners, "have created these two nearly parallel worlds as a way of coping with the conflicting pressures of conducting serious scholarship and the need to teach experienced managers who pay a lot of money to learn something useful." Yet little of the folk wisdom drew on the findings of research or had undergone scholarly testing.

Part of the problem is the way that management research—like so many areas of knowledge—tends to explore ever more obscure topics as scholars seek out an unvisited niche. With reason, Ms Pearce is particularly baffled by so-called "critical management theory". A description of this abstruse subject on the Academy of Management website announces that "Our premise is that structural features of contemporary society, such as the profit imperative, patriarchy, racial inequality and ecological irresponsibility often turn organisations into instruments of domination and exploitation." Few are the companies happy to pay $50,000 for their top managers to learn that.

I for one can say that I wasn't taught what I should have been taught in my MBA program. It is time for a change. Of course, I think the whole college educational model needs to be revised, so I better not get started on that.

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