Many Top Schools Absent From Aspen Ranking

Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business jumped back into first place today (Sept. 21) in the Aspen Institute’s Beyond Grey Pinstripes ranking. The last time the Institute did its biennial survey in 2009 was fourth.

The self-styled “alternative ranking” attempts to measure the “social, environmental and ethical impacts” of business school MBA programs. This is the second of three different MBA rankings coming out this week alone, testament to the fact that the obsession over rankings has gotten out of control. Yesterday, Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine released its ranking of the best entrepreneurial programs. The Economist’s annual global MBA ranking will be published shortly in October.

Conspicuously absent from the Aspen’s ranking of the top 100 schools is Harvard Business School, largely considered the best business school in the world. Aspen offers no explanation for Harvard’s absence. That is especially odd because HBS now has a dean whose reputation has been partly made on ethics and the social responsibilities of business.


HBS was not the only top school to be dissed by Aspen. Chicago Booth, MIT Sloan, Dartmouth Tuck, and Duke Fuqua also failed to place in the top 100. None of these top flight MBA institutions are listed among the “participating schools.” Duke, ranked 16th two years ago by Aspen, and Tuck, ranked 44th in the last survey, are among the latest to drop out. The decision not to hand over reams of information to the Aspen Institute team is understandable because there are so many demands by groups ranking MBA programs that many schools are overwhelmed by requests.

The Aspen list, moreover, is a ranking with a sharp ideological axe to grind. Judith Samuelson, executive director of the Aspen’s Business and Society Program, for example, noted there is still work to be done to address the belief among some business educators that the sole role that business should play in society is to maximize profits – as measured by today’s stock price.


“Looking forward,” she said in a statement, “we want to expose more fault lines inside business schools that are teaching courses on sustainability on the one hand but teaching about short term metrics and profit maximization on the other, as if we have several planets to burn and not just one.”

Wharton, always among the top three to five business schools in the world, is given a rank of 36 by Aspen. The highly regarded and prestigious University of Virginia’s  Darden School is ranked 54th. Why? Because Aspen researchers believe that student exposure to social and ethical issues at Wharton and Darden put the schools in 107th and 108th places, respectively.

There are many more anomalies here, especially when you dig more deeply into the Aspen Institute’s findings. Such peculiar results undermine the survey’s credibility and diminish its influence. Nonetheless, the group devotes a substantial amount of effort to the project and it does attract considerable attention every other year. Aspen said its project team spent seven months analyzing business school courses and faculty research to crank out its highly subjective ranking.


On Aspen’s 2011 list, Stanford was followed by No. 2 York University’s Schulich School of Business in Canada, No. 3 IE University in Spain, No. 4 Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, and No. 5. Yale’s School of Management.

Five U.S. schools rounded out the top ten in the Aspen survey which ranks 100 global schools in all: No. 6 Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, No. 7 the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, No. 8 Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, No. 9 the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, and No. 10 UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

Stanford has long been a strong performer in many of Aspen’s previous surveys, ranking first in 2005 and 2007. Aspen Institute said  Stanford received high marks for the number of courses with social and environmental content it offers students as well as courses that explicitly address the role of mainstream business in improving social and environmental conditions. It also ranked high in creating an environment in which faculty feel free to explore social and environmental topics in their research.

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