When B-School Culture Goes Awry

by John A. Byrne on

The Wharton MBA student finished off 14 Jager bombs, six Red Bull vodkas, and an appletini for good measure — and then he prepped for a case study on Gillette.

The red-faced student was captured on a YouTube video, slurring his words and shouting numerous obscenities. To describe the case study for his upcoming class, he proudly tells the camera and everyone else: “It’s marketing. We got to learn it so that’s what I’m fucking doing.”

The video is merely a joke, a humorous skit in this year’s Wharton Follies. But the idea of portraying a drunken MBA student for a few laughs hits home. The truth is that excessive drinking and other Mad Men-like behavior has become part of the culture of getting an MBA degree at a top school, including, in some cases, sexual harassment.

Last month, at Harvard Business School, the co-president of the school’s student follies show was disciplined because empty containers of alcoholic beverages were found on campus after the show — in violation of school policy. The crackdown by HBS administrators closely followed a report of a sexual assault that “involved unwanted groping” of a female student by one of her section mates at an off-campus venue.

During the course of their investigation, administrators say they became aware of behavior that has been disturbing to many on campus. Another female first-year student, for example, had been told that the men in her section had voted her to have “the second best rack” among her classmates. Many students, the school discovered, were playing a game popularized by the TV show “30 Rock” called “Kill, Fuck, or Marry,” in which students name classmates that they would like to murder, have intercourse with, or wed.

“The vast majority of our faculty were shocked and horrified by it,” says Robin Ely, Harvard’s senior associate dean for culture and community. “As we have learned more about what our students are experiencing, a lot of us are coming home and asking our daughters and find that it is rampant in high school. It’s a larger cultural issue.”

Confronting The B-School Culture

Those attitudes are hardly exclusive to Harvard Business School. Professors at several other schools say that the revelations are neither new nor unique.

“The problem of the ‘male adolescent culture’ at business schools is widespread,” says one prominent business school professor who preferred not to be quoted directly on the issue. “And how that ‘excludes’ groups — females, married students, and even some foreign students who don’t fit in — is also an issue. This is simply the Wall Street culture, which really hasn’t changed much since the bad old days, imported to business school.”

In 2008, for example, some MBA students at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management reportedly were so drunk at an event at the Field Museum in Chicago that the bar was shut down early. According to an email written by a student officer, some students attempted to smuggle into the museum “a substantial amount of alcohol” in large trash bins filled with bottles, cans, and flasks.

Some MBA candidates arrived at Kellogg’s open bar event already over-served and began to vomit on themselves. Some students spat at people and threw things at the museum’s $8.3 million Tyrannosaurus Rex. “It is
pretty embarrassing that the Field Museum will refuse to host future
Kellogg events unless they can treat it like a high school prom, with
breathalyzers, high security, and chaperones,” wrote Andrea Hanson, then a vice president of the Kellogg Student Association.

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  • http://twitter.com/ystocks ystocks

    And then they ask you to show how you “fit” into their “culture!”

    No wonder they keep having ethics problems. Biz schools have to choose: either get people from top “brands” like Goldman & McKinsey, or get real people who don’t just care about money and prestige. What you put in is what you get out. Put in greed, get out greed….put in heart, get out heart.

    If people knew that business schools would actually accept people who are very intelligent and hard-working, without them having to have a top greed-brand on their resume, more such people would apply.

  • drunicusrex

    That the men should tone it down is kind of dishonest, given whom women actually choose as mates.
    Furthermore, employers (and some academics) often reward extraversion, confidence, boldness, and energy.
    And frankly, if Little Miss Bossy Pants can’t hack the environment, well, you really don’t need an MBA to work in HR.

  • BT

    Troll Alert

  • derk

    Oh I didn’t realize all people coming from reputable companies such as Goldman and McKinsey are “greedy” and ethically compromised. 

    Way to stereotype people. You’re obviously compensating for something 

  • Undercontrol

    I’m quite surprised that no comments were given by the adcom.  The adcom certainly holds some extent of responsibility in this matter.  It’s horrible and shameful to see the kinds of people the adcom of  so called Top Business Schools “rigorously” selects every year.  Yet, they probably felt that they had done a great job …

  • http://www.facebook.com/alvaro.neto Alvaro Neto

    Holy Shat!!! I really wana go to Biz School now!

  • Guest

    from an earlier post:
    The worst part, however, are the people. I’m obviously
    generalizing here, but B-school classes tend to be dominated by shallow,
    aggressive type-A personalities: people who are arrogant, loud, flat as a
    pancake, and in general incapable of introspection or reflection on anything
    beyond sports, sex and money. They are usually also of very mediocre
    intelligence (as compared to e.g. law school or PhD students), have poor
    real-world skills (other than superficial self-confidence), and they also tend
    to have a surprisingly uneven professional track record. (For those who don’t
    believe this: remember that the smartest, nicest and most successful people in
    business obviously never have to go to b-school in the first place: they get
    directly promoted to Associate, go to PE after a consulting or banking stint, or
    continue running their own successful business…) While there are obviously
    exceptions, social life in b-school is therefore centered around parties,
    clubbing and drinking binges. It is easy to make small-talk, but hard to have a
    meaningful conversation with anyone. Easy to make acquaintances, hard to make
    friends.

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