Out of touch and entitled faculty? Ah, this topic just never gets old.
Last week, Hult Labs released a study showing that CEOs believed business schools focused too heavily on theory and hard skills at the expense of real-world experience and soft skills. That’s a fair assessment, as these observations originated from 90 global CEOs and managers in the context of business schools. These days, it seems like any report is ripe for a riff on B-school professors. As always, the Financial Times is happy to oblige critics with a forum.
And the best part? They don’t even require their guest writers to back up their assertions.
This week, Duke Corporate Education released its “Duke Corporate Education 2013 CEO Study: Leading in Context.” The study consisted of interviews 38 global CEOs, including 13 from the United States. Here, respondents were queried on the challenges of leading in a more interconnected and ambiguous business climate. Alas, the study produced a list of “seven leadership sense-abilities” (cute wordplay). We won’t bore you with the details. Let’s just say the results codified common sense, relaying traits that are easier to preach than to practice.
Usually, a nondescript study like this would generate a press release and a short summary in some national outlet. Then, it’d be forgotten, only resurrected as an arcane citation in some poor soul’s graduate thesis. But two B-school professors, Terence Tse of the ESCP Europe Business School and Mark Esposito of Grenoble Ecole de Management, decided to hijack this study instead to bite the hands that feed them.
You see, the study doesn’t address business school pedagogy. But it does grab attention. And there’s nothing like attaching a reputable (albeit worthless) study to a jeremiad to give yourself undeserved credibility. Naturally, the authors don’t bother to refer back to the study after the second paragraph. And why should they? They’re hellbent on delivering their hissy fit. Unless their employers are harboring their binkies, we’re not sure what they intended with it.
So what is their beef with business schools? They frame the issue this way:
“Yet many business schools have failed to develop curricula that satisfy the needs of employers who require a workforce that can evolve alongside a continuously changing world. There are many reasons behind this academic-real-life disconnect. One factor is that schools continue to teach subjects in silos – as if there is no connection or overlap between them in the real world…The outcome of this is that business education has become more akin to a factory line than the broad learning opportunity it should be.”
That’s an argument we’ve heard before (and for good reason). Alas, cross-curricular education has grown more pronounced in some business schools, such as the integration of technology in North Carolina State’s MBA program and partnerships inherent to Columbia University’s WeWork program. Still, it can always get better. But the authors aren’t interested in solutions. They’re focused on root causes (and blood).
So what is behind this gulf between businesses and the MBA programs that supply them? The authors identify three issues:
- Accreditation: “[Accreditation] goes too far when it leads to ‘standardisation,’ which demands that all schools follow the same well-worn, mainstream curricular path. This would be fine if accreditors embraced a business school model that provides the skillsets employers need. But they do not. The unavoidable consequence of standardisation is that it kills possibilities for innovative ways of teaching and keeps core business subjects neatly and unrealistically compartmentalised.”
Our Take: Can you describe this “well-worn” path? Which skill sets are key to employers? Which innovative teaching methods does standardization hinder?
- Faculty: “Teaching staff tend to have no real business experience….their “expertise” is often built up through years of research in an ivory tower setting – not by teaching to seasoned executives or connecting with real businesses. The outcome is that this so-called expertise does not meld with what is actually going on in the world…It is surprising how many faculty members have no work or management experience outside the confines of their academic institutions. Part of the reason for this is that they choose not to gain industry exposure in favour of pursuing an academic career. It is counter-intuitive, if not downright ridiculous, that seasoned managers in executive MBA programmes for example, are often taught by people who have zero experience of making the challenging decisions their own students grapple with regularly.”
Our Take: “Tend” and “often” are what we call “weasel” words. They’re used when writers don’t invest research and rigor into their work. Can you imagine how Professor Tse would grade a student paper that used “tend” in place of data? Since most business schools make faculty bios available online, perhaps the authors could compile average work experiences at particular schools (or even call out specific professors by name). While they’re at it, we’d love to read anecdotes about those clueless professors teaching executive MBA courses. Sounds like an urban legend. Pop Rocks and cola, anyone?
- Academic Research: “…It matters for institutions because published articles in academic journals count for accreditation and business school rankings. Research is also paramount in the eyes of teaching faculty because it is what promotions, tenures and salaries revolve around. To climb the career ladder, professors prioritise academic papers over consulting work. The problem with academic journals – as opposed to “practitioners” journals – is that they are usually irrelevant to what managers and executives actually do, otherwise, there would be no such distinction. There is no requirement for research to be influenced by real-life business. Many academics are therefore more concerned with theoretical concepts, which carry minimal practical applications. Meanwhile, the promotion system, based on the number of academic journal articles a professor produces, gives no incentive to teach current business trends.”
Our Take: It would be helpful to have an example of extraneous research (aside from the Duke Corporate Education Study). Which academic journals are irrelevant? What topics are valuable to businesses (aside from bashing unnamed peers in the Financial Times)?
You probably get the point. Just because some B-school profs spout off in a well-known (and spottily edited) outlet doesn’t mean they deserve serious consideration. B-schools are already under siege. If writers are going to regurgitate the same worn criticisms, cite names, numbers, examples, anecdotes, studies, or quotations. Twist or cherry pick data if you must. But back it up.
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