After Darden, two schools come next, tied for winning A or A+ grades for teaching in ten of the 12 BusinessWeek customer satisfaction surveys: Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business and Cornell University’s Johnson School of Business. The University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School came in fourth, winning the top teaching accolade eight out of 12 times. (See table of the top 14 schools on the following page).
Interestingly, all four schools share a number of attributes in common that explains a lot about why they’re at the top. All four boast relatively smaller MBA enrollments than the large MBA factories that run larger classes. The size of their faculties are significantly smaller so peer recognition on teaching tends to be greater.
THE SCHOOLS WHOSE FACULTY CONSISTENTLY SCORE AT THE TOP TEND TO BE IN SMALLER TOWNS
They are located in smaller towns–Charlottesville, Va., Hanover, N.H., Ithaca, N.Y., and Chapel Hill, N.C.–away from a major city’s distractions. So the professors at these schools tend to be more accountable for their classroom time and more accessible to students because of the schools’ cultures and locations. And finally, they are all general management schools where the predominant teaching approach is via case study, a style of teaching that demands heavy interaction and engagement with students.
The largest schools to break through the 20th percentile barrier are the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, which has landed in the top 20th percentile in teaching six out of 12 times, and Harvard Business School, which has done it five out of 12 times. Both schools are especially known for the outstanding quality of their professors, though Chicago is something of a surprise due to its long standing emphasis on scholarly research.
How hard is it to receive grades from graduates that would put a school’s faculty in the top 20th percentile? Let’s put it this way: In 24 years, Wharton has never received that recognition in the BusinessWeek surveys. Columbia Business School, the University of Michigan’s Ross School and UCLA’s Anderson School have achieved that honor only once in 24 years. Duke University’s Fuqua School claimed this distinction just twice.
THERE’S GOOD TEACHING AT ALL THE TOP-RANKED SCHOOLS. WHAT WE ARE SINGLING OUT IS GREAT TEACHING.
This doesn’t mean the teaching is mediocre in these top-ranked schools. What it does mean is that teaching is not a differentiating attribute of the school’s culture. Each of these top schools has many exceptional teachers, but no student should go to Wharton, Columbia, Duke or Michigan and not expect to find a few duds in the classroom. What the student satisfaction surveys by BusinessWeek shows is that the quality of teaching in those insitutions is consistently inconsistent.
That is largely because of the strong emphasis schools place on academic research. There are surprisingly few business school professors who believe that classroom teaching is a higher calling and fewer still who can measure up to what it takes to be a world-class teacher. Lynn Paine, who has taught at the Harvard Business School since 1990, has an inspired definition of exceptional teaching and the obligations it places on a teacher. “The central goal of teaching,” she says, “is to help your students along the path of life, to help them be the best that they can be. That means keeping your eye on several points of triangulation. One is, what is happening in the world? How is the world changing? What is the world your students are going to step into? Another is what is happening in the world of knowledge? What do we know? What are we learning? What is our research telling us? A third is what is happening in your students’ lives? Where are they? What do they already know and what do they need to know? Where is their personal development? And you take these three pieces to deliver to the student what the student needs to know. That is the art of teaching.”
At Darden, Dartmouth, Cornell and UNC, it is a well-practiced art. There are precious few teaching failures at these business schools. Those academic cultures put tremendous peer pressure on professors to perform exceptionally well in class. The schools hire, promote and tenure on the basis of teaching. They believe that teaching is as important as research. Senior professors routinely mentor their younger counterparts on the best ways to engage a class. Student evaluations of teachers are taken seriously and used by professors to improve their classroom performance. Rewards for outstanding teaching are given prominence and importance in the school’s culture.
The upshot: you’re far more likely to find truly passionate and extraordinary teaching in those classrooms. As Yiorgos Allayannis, a Darden finance professor and one of the school’s many teaching superstars, explains, “I love teaching. It’s fun. It’s beautiful. There there is a certain joy in seeing people grow and learn. And teaching is at the core of this institution.”