After a storm of protest by business schools and their students, Bloomberg Businessweek has eliminated ten questions from its student survey used to create its biennial ranking of the best full-time MBA programs. Deans from several top schools felt the questions—about alcohol consumption, hookups, sexual preferences, and political views—were insensitive and offensive.
“It was one big muddle of inappropriateness,” said one spokesperson from a top business school who asked not to be quoted by name. “It has caused a great deal of conversation. We had students bring it to us and say it was offensive. It’s disturbing.”
The uproar is the result of efforts by Bloomberg BusinessWeek to revamp the survey instruments and the methodology for its next ranking of business schools due this November. Ironically, the magazine has been trying to be more collaborative with the schools in the redesign to increase transparency. But the faux pas occurred when the magazine’s editors tossed in “lifestyle” questions that many felt crossed the line.
SCHOOLS ALSO CRITICAL OF UNCERTAINTY OVER RANKING METHODOLOGY
More troubling to some business school administrators, however, is the uncertainty and indecisiveness the magazine is showing in how it will eventually overhaul the BusinessWeek business school ranking methodology. A transcript of a recent online chat with business school officials makes clear that BusinessWeek is unwilling to commit to a system of ranking schools without looking at the underlying data first.
That decision is making school officials suspicious that the magazine would alter its methodology if the results it produces are not to its liking. As one business school official put it, “That is completely unacceptable because once the data comes in, you can’t keep changing your formula until you get a ranking where the output looks like you think it should. Under Bloomberg Businessweek’s proposed process, if they don’t like the outcome, they will continue to change their criteria until they get a ranking they like. This has gone from comedy to tragedy.”
Business school officials would not be quoted on the record because they are fearful that it could damage their relationship with the magazine and impact their school’s standing in its highly influential ranking of MBA programs.
‘DO YOU IDENTIFY AS LESBIAN, GAY OR BISEXUAL?’
The BusinessWeek business school ranking — which has been published every other year since 1988—is being updated by a group of newcomers to Bloomberg BusinessWeek who have little experience in covering business schools. Seven months ago in November, the magazine lost the two core members of its business school team, Louis Lavelle and Geoff Gloeckler, who together had 16 years of experience reporting and writing on business education. Bloomberg BusinessWeek has hired in talent since then but the new staff has little to no experience on the beat.
From the very start of the magazine’s latest efforts to rank business schools, the effort has stirred up controversy. Initially, it was the already fielded student survey which for the first time asked questions of a highly personal nature, including the following:
Do you identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual?
During your MBA program, approximately how many alcoholic beverages did you drink in an average week?
Is your MBA program a good place for a single person to find casual dating partners?
Is your MBA program a good place for a single person to find a long-term romantic partner?
How would you describe the political views of the students in your MBA program?
‘SCHOOL CULTURE IS AS IMPORTANT TO ACADEMICS WHEN IT COMES TO MBA PROGRAMS’
Explains Jonathan Rodkin, a quantitative researcher who joined the magazine in January as research and ranking coordinator: “This year, we asked more questions about students’ personal characteristics than we did in past years to reflect what we have consistently heard from students: school culture is as important to academics when it comes to their MBA program.”
But the move quickly backfired when several administrators and students expressed great concern that the questions were inappropriate. “It just seemed a little odd for this type of survey,” says Scott Cooper, who graduates from UCLA’s Anderson School tomorrow. “It gets away from the point as to why people go to graduate school. In undergrad, they may be considerations that come into play. But for a graduate student, they just were a little strange. They weren’t offensive to me but I could see that a lot of other people might feel that way.”
BusinessWeek has since retracted the questions. “In response to feedback from a small group of schools, we decided to remove 10 questions that we had added to the full-time MBA student survey,” adds Rodkin. “These questions asked students about aspects of non-academic life at b-school. The questions did not collect data that contribute to rankings, so their elimination will in no way affect schools’ rankings.”
But what has ultimately caused the greatest upset centers around likely changes to the actual methodology. The magazine ranks schools based on three major inputs: surveys of both MBA students and graduates as well as corporate recruiters who hire MBAs and the publication of articles by faculty in a select group of journals. The student and recruiter opinion surveys—distributed and collected by Cambria Consulting, an outside firm—each account for 45% of the weighting in the BusinessWeek business school ranking, while the intellectual scholarship measurement accounts for the remaining 10%.