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
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.”