For years, critics have bemoaned the waste and inefficiency of much of the scholarly research done by business school academics. Now they will have a piece of shocking data that will no doubt resurrect the long-simmering debate.
In a study released today (July 16), two academics from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business estimate that the cost of a single scholarly article written by B-school professors is an astounding $400,000.
“It is shockingly expensive,” concludes Karl Ulrich, the vice dean of innovation at Wharton. “I am a scholar. I do research and am supportive of it. But I had never carefully looked at how much it costs. It’s fantastically expensive. Can we really afford it? And can we compete without it?”
THE ESTIMATE COMES FROM A TEAR DOWN OF THE BUSINESS MODEL OF AN ELITE MBA PROGRAM
Though the estimate is a subordinate point in a report on how technology will impact the elite business schools, it is likely to call into question such large investments at a time when universities are under increasing pressure to lower their costs. The $400,000 number is in a tear down of the business model for elite MBA programs done by Ulrich and Wharton colleague Christian Terwiesch, a professor of operations and information management. It’s an exorbitant number, especially considering that many faculty articles are read only by a limited number of scholars in a discipline and often have little to no value to practicing mangers and leaders.
The finding came about by accident, a result of the authors’ efforts to get at the underlying costs of running an elite business school and how those costs would be impacted by technology. “It cost Wharton $250,000 on our entire MOOC (Massively Open Online Course) activity last year which gets you to about page 12 on a single article,” observes Ulrich. “We better figure out how to articulate the value proposition. It is really important to explicitly fund scholarship and say why it is important.”
Ulrich attributes some of the pressure on schools to do research to rankings which attempt to measure published output by professors. “There is a significant element of that expense being the pursuit of ratings,” he says. “Ratings are really important, especially to the second tier business schools. They look at the BusinessWeek rankings and use those in their tenure promotion analysis. We raise the question is this an artifact or is this, in fact, a casual connection between faculty scholarship and the quality of an education.”
The Cost of Creating An ‘A’ Journal Article
FOCUS ON RESEARCH A RESULT OF A RETHINKING OF BUSINESS SCHOOLS IN THE LATE 1950s
The heavy emphasis on research at many business schools came about in the late 1950s when business education was attacked as having little academic legitimacy. A Ford Foundation report by two economists, Robert Aaron Gordon and James Edwin Howell, tore into business schools for having narrow, trade-focused curricula, employing poorly trained faculty, and using simplistic teaching and research methodologies. The Gordon-Howell report encouraged university officials to invest far more heavily in scholarly research, particularly theory and rigorous analysis. Many schools rushed to embrace that approach, in part to prove they were equal to their university colleagues. Today it is virtually impossible for a professor to gain tenure without being published in several academic journals in his or her discipline.