After Earning An MBA, She Trashes The School

columbia business school criticism

The critic within: Columbia MBA Kim Gittleson disses her experience at the school

Just a few days after receiving her MBA from Columbia Business School last week, Kim Gittleson had a few choice words to express her disappointment about the school, her classmates and the degree she earned on a full-ride scholarship. A former journalist for the BBC News, Gittleson has written an essay that is nothing less than an indictment of her MBA experience.

She criticizes Columbia for failing to provide any real sense of direction or moral obligation among students. She claims the school’s culture is overwhelmed by “a pervasive ethos of greed.” She maintains that the school’s core curriculum of business basics “lacks a core,” alleging that even the most dedicated students find it hard to acquire a substantial body of learning. She says that sexism abounds at the school and the entire experience “seems to boil down to conspicuous consumption, ceaseless networking, and not much actual learning.”

And even though she received a full scholarship, she claims that business school students increasingly look like customers who’ve been overcharged for their education. She left Columbia believing that her school’s “main value proposition is entry into high-paying sectors like hedge funds,” a field that attracts fewer than 1% of the MBA graduates in any given year and drew fewer than 3% of Columbia’s MBAs in 2016.

FIVE DAYS AFTER GRADUATING, GITTLESON ISSUES AN INDICTMENT

columbia business school criticism

Kim Gittleson has written a disparaging essay on her MBA experience at Columbia Business School. LinkedIn photo

Her essay–“An MBA Is Not All It Should Be”–was published by Bloomberg on May 22, a mere five days after donning cap and gown to become one of 788 graduates of Columbia’s full-time MBA program. She was part of a class with students who hailed from from 66 countries, speak 58 languages and dialects, and come from a range of backgrounds. “Among you, of course, are consultants and financiers,” noted Dean Glenn Hubbard,“but also yogis and cooks and scuba divers and cyclists and musicians, explorers, and entrepreneurs of every stripe.”

Hubbard didn’t mention journalists and precious few tend to be in business school classes, but Gittleson was one of them who clearly used her skills to produce an unusual condemnation of the school. She’s not the first journalist to get an MBA and then immediately cast her business school experience in a highly negative light. The most famous critique was penned by Philip Delves Broughton, a former journalist at the Daily Telegraph of London, who graduated from Harvard Business School and ended up writing a 304-page book that chronicled his two years at HBS called Ahead of the Curve.

But what makes Gittleson’s essay stand out is that it popped up only days after wearing her cap and gown and receiving her MBA degree. She’s a formidable critic. She graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s in history and literature form Harvard University in 2008. Gittleson worked as a producer for BBC News in New York for more than two years before becoming an online business reporter for the BBC for two years until June of 2015. She won a prestigious Knight-Bagehot fellowship at Columbia for journalists and was ultimately awarded the George A. Wiegers Fellow which provides a full scholarship to the MBA program. When she picked up her MBA last week, she was in the top 5% of her class.

The school is obviously less than happy about her decision to publicly express her derogatory views. “I can tell you that we have received a ton of responses from alumni (most notably the Class of 2017) saying that their experience was completely different than the one portrayed in this essay,” says Christopher Cashman, a spokesperson for the school. “It is disappointing to learn that this student feels this way about her experience, and we would have welcomed the chance to have worked with her had we been given the opportunity.”

‘I THINK IT’S FAIR, AND I THINK IT’S TRUE’

The 30-year-old Gittleson, who intends to remain in journalism and not use her degree to transition into another field, maintains that she is not deeply disappointed in her CBS experience despite the disparaging comments she makes. “I would argue that I am not highly disillusioned and was not trying to be highly critical,” she tells Poets&Quants in an interview. “For the most part, I don’t regret getting an MBA and I am grateful for getting it. I don’t want it to come across as biting the hand that feeds me. These are strong institutions. They get lots of applicants and they are strong enough to withstand one op-ed that asks them to think a little bit about their social purpose.”

The essay was written, she says, as part of a job interview, and she had several classmates read the opinion piece before publication. “It wasn’t a piece that was sitting there waiting for someone to publish,” adds Gittleson. “It came out by accident as these things do. I was hoping to convey that I thought this was a degree that could do with a deeper thought process behind it. I think it’s fair, and I think it’s true. I did give it to classmates before it was published. They were honest in telling me it’s fair and these conversations could and should happen. There is a pervasive culture of not questioning it (the MBA experience) because you can shoot yourself in the foot.”

The new MBA graduate also believes her criticisms, though they largely come from her experience at Columbia, are not confined only to the New York school that sent 39% of its graduates into finance jobs last year. “I don’t think these criticisms are unique to me or to Columbia Business School,” says Gittleson. “These are concerns I heard people express about lots of business school programs. You can sit there and complain in private or express how you feel. I don’t think anyone there is craven or unthinking. I came to believe it was a worthwhile experience. The MBA isn’t a completely worthless endeavor. I’m not alone in being a little confused about what it is for.”

  • GoldRushApple

    Hahaha yawn yawn.

  • Urko U.S. Deplorable ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    Yawn.

  • GoldRushApple

    I win. Thanks for the playing. Maybe you’ll fair better next time.

  • Urko U.S. Deplorable ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

  • GoldRushApple

    You can’t do it because you’re too drunk with your own arrogance. Face it, you’ve misread my OP and you definitely owe me an apology for A) wasting my time and B) accusing me of false sentiments.

  • Urko U.S. Deplorable ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    YAWN …

  • GoldRushApple

    Prove what? Prove that you didn’t misread my post. Quote me directly and within context because apparently you’re so miffed by what I wrote. Go on. Quote me. That’ll be proof that whatever you’re miffed about you have the right to be.

  • Urko U.S. Deplorable ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    Prove it. Do something substantial. Instead of leeching for TWO years, then complaining.

  • GoldRushApple

    Apparently you misread my post.

  • Mike Johe

    MBA degrees are over rated these days, what really matters is your experience and your network, no more no less. Anyone can go online to gain the knowledge and skills taught in MBA class at his own pace…

  • Urko U.S. Deplorable ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    What an unmitigated load of horse apples.

    The KGs and JJRs of the world love to lecture others about their orgs, like Fat Mike Moore (D) and Faux-a-hontus (D).

    That’s because they’ve never done anything substantial.

    If they REALLY had it, they’d be running big orgs, paying their people what they want others to pay.

    They’re not. And they never will, Take that to the bank.

    Meanwhile, the rest of us will just keep trying .. at least. Instead of pontificating and blah-blah-blah and yada-yada-yada.

  • GoldRushApple

    I’m not sure if your post was sarcasm (god-tier, top MBA) but just to answer, no. Regardless, I’m sure there are those who share similar sentiments to mine in top-tier MBA programs.

  • DaMysteryMayne

    Omg. This is a god-tier response. “Muh ethics”… hahaha. Are you at a top MBA as well? I currently am and I could not concur with you more.

  • Snowing!

    Ignorant and sexist is also a thing, deal with some backlash or don’t post at all…snowflake. Lol

  • GoldRushApple

    The curriculum isn’t lacking. JJR is just projecting his own liberal arts fantasy in an MBA curriculum. Little does JRR realize that his liberal arts fantasy can be found and achieved in one place on every university: the library.

    It seems that the Knight Foundation program at Columbia attracts the “muh ethics” types. Hence the presence of JRR and KG.

    I say all of this as someone who majored in the liberal arts and social sciences.

  • GoldRushApple

    > But I was struck at times by how some of my classmates belied a total ignorance of politics, world affairs, history, science or the arts—knowledge one generally acquires at, you know, university.

    Depends on what one studied at university and how curious they were. If you’re talking about cursory knowledge, maybe. It also depends on how you measured “total ignorance.”

    Learning is a lifelong process, and I don’t expect my peers to be a jack of all trades on X amount of subjects.

    Plus, what do you know about each listed matter you brought up? I’m honest enough to admit my interests and strengths lie in the arts and social sciences. I don’t have much interest in world affairs, though.

  • GoldRushApple

    >>I’m really struck at the amount of privilege (race, nationality and class)

    Then you write –

    >>Reasoned criticism

    You’re funny.

  • Kevin D

    I also graduated from CBS in 2016 and have two cluster mates in that program. Both are smart girls, awesome CBS matters. But, they both hang almost exclusively with other Knight program folks and rarely participate in cluster activities. As you said it was difficult to find that common ground. I wonder how much of Kim’s comments is because of her background. I actually agreed with some of the points in her article.

  • Abcdefg

    I would posit that this outcome is not realizable at all. I’m currently at another M7 MBA program, and this school does have a strong focus on social impact and weaves that narrative throughout its courses and the themes that the administration touches on in communications with students. However, insofar as student body is concerned, I can make absolutely no distinction between that of Columbia and that of my institution. I am sure that before school, they had very similar experiences, and they are pursuing very similar enterprises after school. This leads me to conclude that the culture of the MBA is simply a function of those who would pursue an MBA, and any argument about what values the school “imparts” upon the students is ultimately moot.

  • We’re making no conclusions about her criticisms but simply reporting them. They can all be legitimate criticisms of Columbia’s MBA program, though I would tend to think they are highly exaggerated clichéd assumptions based on the behavior of some of her classmates. Still, she has every right to be critical as a nontraditional student who spent two years in the MBA program. All we are doing is giving her perspective greater attention. I also don’t agree that the headline is snarky. It accurately reflects the severe criticisms she levels at her MBA experience. We don’t say that her graduation status or free ride precludes her from having a strong negative opinion. It’s just a fact that the essay was published five days after she graduated from a prestige MBA program in which she received the degree on a full ride.

  • Nicely done

    Nice attention-grabbing headline there, John. Might I suggest a few alternatives for others who might “trash” the school:

    A guy who didn’t get in: Sore loser gets rejected and trashes school which didn’t accept him.

    A lady who gets in but doesn’t graduate: She couldn’t cope with business school, now trashes it.

    So really, if one is crtisizing a school, there’s no good way to come off, is there? What must a person do before they’re allowed to critisize without a snarky headline?
    Why does her graduation status or scholarship preclude her from having a strong negative opinion?

  • Esuric

    Well written.

  • Esuric

    Why did she wait until after she graduated to express her views? Why didn’t she act during the program, when she had the ability to influence the program? Sounds like a cheap gimmick looking to make a quick buck.

  • 2cents

    Click the link to the actual article and read it – this summary conveys a very different sentiment than the piece does. I took her stance to be more a commentary on proliferation of the degree, how schools have let the value of the education erode as the degree prints money to subsidize other departments, and yes lack of morality and sexism, etc., and less I hated my MBA experience, which is how the above reads. Having said that, I remember plenty of individuals who have this experience. I do feel it’s unfortunate, but my sense is that it tends to match strongly with those who either lack direction with the degree (e.g., you wanted a masters degree but didn’t have specific goals in mind, so you chose an MBA) or are sponsored by their employer. The value I took from my experience stems from what i put into it; building working with academics outside of just the lecture, working part time in jobs that open new doors, building a curriculum around personal goals, going to speaker events and organizing conferences/standing up new organizations, meeting students from other non-MBA programs, etc. I would agree with her that the guidance isn’t there for a “transformative” experience to create business leaders, but instead exists effectively as an accelerator within a field (not finance) or lateral shifting mechanism.

  • Sayed’s brother

    One of the ways to help foster a more well-rounded MBA grad is for the AdCom to build a highly diverse class in every way possible, and then to encourage networking for different ideas to be shared. Besides, there are dozens on student-led groups which foster new experiences and promote diversity, as you might recall from your bschool stint.

    I just don’t get where you think the curriculum is lacking. Sayed laid out examples of how students have the ability to pursue other non-core areas while at school. Besides those, could you give one or two examples of how to effectively weave the well-rounded additions into the curriculum without further diluting valuable business-core airtime?

  • MysteryMan

    If you need a school inculcate a sense of moral direction in you, then I am sorry but you are a person in a sorry state. I truly feel sorry for any adult who needs outside validation or moral direction. This is not a child or a university student – this is an adult. My moral compass was crystallized by the time I turned 18. I do not intend to pay a business school to teach me moral theory – I can read philosophy on my own outside of class.

  • Jeff John Roberts

    I don’t understand your reference to the optimism of an “aspiring journalist.” Is that supposed to be a slight? FWIW, I’m not an “aspiring” anything. I’m a former lawyer who has spent the last seven years working for major news organizations, including Reuters and BBC.

    I do appreciate your point about the skepticism in other quarters towards MBAs, which seems to ebb and flow (though it seems to be picking up steam of late), and that the MBA community strives to outpace this. But I can’t help thinking that one way to rebut the MBA haters is for programs like CBS to produce more well-rounded people. A common complaint about MBAs is that many of them lack depth and self-awareness, or a perception of the world (business and otherwise) around them.

    The specifics of how to fix this are admittedly hard. You’re right that forcing people into soft culture courses is probably not the way to go about it. Perhaps a better may would be to weave more bigger picture context into the existing curriculum.

  • CBS Alum 2016

    I´m CBS alumni 2016, and my personal experience is that her experience is not representative and most probably made up to sell a story. Against this background and ironically she behaves as opportunistic and greedy as the minority of finance guys (that behave at all b-schools) the same.

    Shame on her

  • Sayed

    Your suggestion here demonstrates the undying optimism of an aspiring journalist. From Kim’s article, the MBA is already under intense scrutiny from business leaders in private equity and a variety of other naysaying non-MBA types. Albeit with a relatively small impact, the MBA competes with a variety of more specialized degrees like MFin (CFAs), or MAcctg (CPAs), and some executives will tell you that one’s work experience is more valuable than time spent in the classroom. Knowing this is an ongoing current that the MBA community continuously strives to outpace, why would it make sense to further dilute the core business curriculum with courses from the arts, science, or otherwise? Students already have the ability to take electives at other schools if they so desire. Additionally, a large swatch of students are enrolled in dual-degree programs. Last, Kim also mentioned that there already exists a culture of treating academics like an annoyance at B-school; do you actually think students would treat the added “artsy soft core” seriously while pondering $200K of debt repayment???

  • Anita ’17

    Having a face for TV is a thing… Love it or hate it snowflake!

  • Jeff John Roberts

    I met people like the ones you describe, and respect them for taking the risk to go all-in on a business education, and for the grit they showed to get through recruitment on top of everything else CBS throws at you.

    But I’m not sure why it’s “unrealistic nonsense” to expect MBAs to be capable of engaging in other intellectual or ethical issues. I think the fault here lies less on the students than on CBS, which could structure the program in a way that acknowledged the rest of the university (which is responsible for the power of the Columbia brand in the first place). Not saying that they should replace capital markets with art history — just that there’s room (esp in the the core program) to integrate broader fields of knowledge.

  • elite

    MBA grads are taking classes, some start companies and some start hedge funds.. u think an IVY MBA who has taken 150K in loans has the time to discuss the history of art on weekends? If she didn’t have the journalism scholarship and had 200K in loans , she would not have the time and a different perspective
    and her condesceding remark about CBS being filled with internationals? so much for knowledge of the global economy
    Such unrealistic nonsense
    and most CBS grads are Ivy undergrads , so they are pretty knowledgeable in world affairs, but they have companies and funds to run.. or interview at top firms

  • Jeff John Roberts

    That’s a fair point about the timing—it would have been braver, and more constructive, if she’d done this during her time there, and not as a parting shot. As for whether this smacks of privilege, I dunno. I think she had to earn her place there through smarts and work. If she has what it takes to get in, she has a right to draw her own conclusions. (If you want to talk about “privilege,” I’m more appalled by the number of “legacy” students clogging up American Ivys. Legacy, I’ve learned, is often a euphemism for “this kid isn’t all that bright but his parents went here and he has money so let’s pretend he is.”

    And yes, I did meet some awesome and very well rounded people at CBS who will be great leaders in business and beyond.

  • OG

    Her argument may be directed at the culture of the MBA in general, but I’m not sure how attending Columbia – a NY based school with a strong finance focus – qualified her to comment on the culture of MBA programs in general? For example when she argues that the core curriculum at top programs isn’t truly core or no actual learning takes place, how exactly does she come to that conclusion?

    I totally believe you that some of your classmates at CBS were ignorant about politics, world affairs and the arts. Yet I’m sure there were others who weren’t, no? Maybe those who are well-rounded will be the fantastic executives you want to see a decade from now.

    As to being a capable journalist, that’s entirely possible in other arenas, unfortunately the one piece she wrote about business school wasn’t particularly well substantiated or helpful to someone like me thinking about an MBA. I’m really struck at the amount of privilege (race, nationality and class) it takes to write a piece like this about an ivy program right after you graduate. There are people who are just as smart as her who do not have the privileges she has had that would have KILLED to be in her position. Maybe this is a cultural thing, and I’m not as Americanized or westernized as I initially thought. Reasoned criticism is one thing, but being contrary just to be provocative, I think is a form of self absorption. You know what would have been interesting, if someone like Kim started a conversation while she was in the school and recruited other people to join her in changing the culture. That’s what leaders do – they don’t just provoke from a distance, they dive in and get their hands dirty.
    That’s the article I would have wanted to read – about what she freaking DID to address the problems and why she thinks it didn’t work.

  • Jeff John Roberts

    I’m not sure why getting a free ride precludes Kim from making the observations that she did (whether you agree with them or not). Her argument, as I read it, is less directed at CBS than at the culture of the MBA and in general. It’s a lament that business schools have become entirely untethered from the larger intellectual culture of the university. If you disagree, rebut her arguments, don’t lash out with personal attacks.

    As disclosure, I attended CBS for a year under the same program as Kim (it’s funded by the Knight Foundation with the goal of giving journalists a better understanding of business), and very much appreciated the experience. I met a lot of incredibly smart and driven people, made friends and learned a lot. But I was struck at times by how some of my classmates belied a total ignorance of politics, world affairs, history, science or the arts—knowledge one generally acquires at, you know, university. Some of you will counter than by saying that’s just liberal or artsy (or pick your adjective) crap that you don’t need in the business world. But in my experience interviewing executives, the great ones are well read and informed on all these topics, and have an insatiable curiosity for knowledge of all kinds. Be like them – not like the dickhead who meets arguments with insults, and understands little beyond a balance sheet.

    Finally, as to Kim’s “free ride,” she earned it. She is a capable journalist but also excelled in the quant-heavy classes like statistics and corporate finance. Would you rather admit someone less smart to take her place? Great schools are capable of absorbing contrary ideas, even criticism, and grow stronger from them. In the long run, CBS is better off with people like Kim than without.

  • Jonas Mccloy

    our friend johnny b is so biased against cbs that it’s sad…. som all the way!

  • StanfordSucks

    Clearly she did not do ANY research on Columbia. She probably applied because it was “Ivy”. LOL

    If she did a modicum of research, she would not have applied at all. Columbia is a Finance school. A 3rd place finance school, after Booth and Wharton. Unlike Harvard (where she went to college) Stanford and Booth, there is really not a lot of boost to be had in Columbia for non-traditionals like her – unless they want to switch to banking or consulting.

    Had she done her research….

    And to think that she was a “journalist”! A journalist who does not do her due diligence.

    CBS did not fail her. She failed herself.

  • MB

    I highly doubt most people get into programs like this by “being friends with the director there”. This girl is clearly an anomaly and not the norm. Last I checked they got 6000 applications for 750 spots which means MANY qualified people don’t get in.

  • elite

    Majored in English Literature at Harvard… which explains the arrogance and idealism
    That explains it.. can’t wait for AI to automate journalism jobs !
    Silicon Valley and Bangalore Computer Geeks.. hope you are listening

  • Tung

    It is a CBS admission team fault to admit such losers and turn away a self made hard working applicants. Most likely she was a friend of the director there and as journalist she can make up any story and get the full ride. Top business schools must reevaluate their admission policy.

  • LatAmMan

    Ignorant and sexist- kudos to you, you prick.
    Producers are never in front of the camera. Thus your comment, horrible as it is, is a moot point.
    Enjoy never being close to the opportunities she, or anyone else who just graduated from CBS or its ilk, has earned.

  • SuchADick

    Omg I totally see why she was disillusioned while at BBC and decided to take a non-sense hiatus. She doesn’t have a face for TV!!! This also explains why she didn’t “enjoy” her experience lol

  • Sarah

    Of course, if she admitted to not having clearly thought through her MBA experience, then how could she possibly have gotten something with supreme focus out of her two-year experience? If she had zero intention of leaving journalism, then she is missing out on half of what a business school offers: networking/recruiting/exploring in order to land a job likely in a different field.
    She misses the mark when it comes to the academic side too. After all, she had no desire to refine her skillset in any specific business area. She went on a whim and she paid NOTHING to attend b-school. She had zero skin in the game on her two-year fleeting excursion. “Grade-non-disclosure” does NOT prevent students from paying a close focus to their grades and learnings. It merely dampens the culture of competition while giving students freedom to self-prioritize other areas of weakness and/or key interests. At b-school, there exists a culture summarized by the phrase “to each his/her own.” The MBA is not a boarding school to keep young adolescents in line; it gives working professionals freedom to choose. If it makes sense to build upon you knowledge in one area, then spend more time getting to know the material or tap fellow students and faculty. If you already have a pretty good sense of the core curriculum from prior educational/work experience, then focus more on non-core classes or networking. Besides, if you score in the top 20%, or top 5% of your class in GPA, then you are rewarded with Honors or Top-Honors on your resume. So, if that really matters more to one who is seeking a job with, say, an elite consulting firm, then perhaps it makes sense to fight harder for the A instead of settling with a B+.
    Last, Columbia is a fine school, but it does NOT represent other b-schools – each school has its own unique circumstances and class culture. One class might be entirely different from the year group before it. That said, Columbia is known for having less of a tight-knit class and the student body is more spread out well beyond the streets of Morningside Heights. Duh… It just sounds like she failed to do her homework and went to Columbia on a whim because she was lost in her career. It’s kind of pathetic. I wouldn’t want to be her right now. ; /

  • MB

    I’m a CBS grad from a few years ago and did NOT have the same experience at all. Kim sounds like an ungrateful and spoiled child who conveniently received a FREE MBA. I think if she had more skin in the game she would not have taken this opportunity and privilege for granted and she wouldn’t have taken the spot of a much more appreciative student. We received skills for life, a network for life and a way to take our careers to the next level FOR LIFE. Doing the MBA at Columbia was the best decision I ever made. Too bad schools can’t take back diplomas. Kim doesn’t deserve one from this fine school.

  • OG

    What a waste of a full ride scholarship. What was the point Columbia of throwing money at someone who just wanted to be a journalist (and a knee-jerk critic of MBAs)? How many worthy applicants were passed up because they didn’t boast the best GPA or GMAT, or weren’t sexy enough like a BBC producer?

    She may not dissuade other journalists from pursuing MBAs, but she may very well dissuade top schools for welcoming former journalists.

  • Jessica

    Except Hopkins is a brand under siege – located in the heart of BALTIMORE! Run away!

  • Josh Nash

    It’s precisely for this reason that I chose to go to Johns Hopkins Carey Business School – their goal is to “Teach Business with Humanity in Mind”, and over the past year of being in the MBA program, it really shows! Not ranked anywhere yet because we were only accredited by AACSB in February, but like all Hopkins programs it will soon be ranked high; most profs are former Harvard Business School & Wharton, and some courses are even taught cross-functionally by Hopkins med school surgeons!

    Poets & Quants wrote an article about it before we officially opened, “The Anti-MBA Business School” – http://poetsandquants.com/2010/10/20/the-anti-mba-business-school/

    Here’s a link to the school site:
    http://carey.jhu.edu

    And a link to my LinkedIn profile if you want to reach out:
    https://www.linkedin.com/in/pickme/