The Buck Stops (and Starts) at Business School

Unless America's business schools make radical changes, society will become convinced that MBAs work to serve only their own selfish interests.

People in America have come to believe that business schools are harmful to society, fostering in their graduates behavior that is self-interested, unethical, and sometimes even illegal. Many are convinced that managers are simply incapable of self-regulation and have called for laws to govern executive compensation and corporate financial reporting. Sure, legislation is cumbersome, but the consequences of self-governance are apparently even worse. How did business schools become part of the problem rather than the solution?

It's their own fault, maintains Apple University dean Podolny, who is in a good position to know (he has been a professor at Harvard and Stanford business schools and a dean of Yale's School of Management). Fifty years of efforts to increase rigor have left even the best business schools with a bias against teaching qualitative disciplines like ethics and leadership. What's more, the schools have allowed rankings organizations to drive their admissions policies and curricula, skewing them toward an overweening emphasis on making money.

Podolny suggests a multipronged approach to tackling the problem: curriculum changes that emphasize the integration of several disciplines and link analytics with ethics; team teaching that ropes in professors from different fields to give students a holistic approach to business issues; a broader definition of scholarship that can embrace the research practices of less-quantitative academic fields; an end to using rankings to market the effectiveness of schools' MBA programs; and a willingness to rescind the degrees of individuals who act unethically in the workplace.

If that sounds like a tall order, it is. Business schools will never become part of the solution, Podolny insists, until they reinvent themselves.


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