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Is There a Jesuit Business School Conspiracy?

Saint Joseph's University Haub School of Business in Philadelphia

Saint Joseph’s University Haub School of Business in Philadelphia beats Tuck, Johnson

Jesuit colleges are popping up in surprising places – that is, surprising places in the U.S. News & World Report MBA specialty rankings.

Take Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, and its Erivan K. Haub School of Business. Haub, according to the U.S. News, is 16th-best in America for marketing, beating out Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business and Cornell’s Johnson School of Management, both tied at 17th. Yet, Haub is nowhere to be found on the U.S. News’ ranking of the top 100 business schools, while Tuck ranks 9th and Johnson ranks 17th.

COOK SCHOOL IN ST. LOUIS BEATS HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL

Now consider Saint Louis University’s Cook School of Business, the self-proclaimed “Oldest Business School West of the Mississippi.” U.S. News anoints Cook 13th best for supply chain/logistics, ahead of Harvard Business School at 15th. Cook also comes out tied at 14th in the entrepreneurship specialty with the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, and above Columbia Business School and the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, both tied at 17th. Notably, Cook is also absent from the U.S. News top 100 business schools list, while Harvard holds the No. 1 spot, Darden sits at No. 11, and UNC Chapel Hill comes in at No. 19.

Or look at Seattle University’s Albers School of Business and Economics, 14th in U.S. News’ specialty ranking for accounting. That puts Albers tied on an equal footing with Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and U.C. Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. Unsurprisingly, Albers makes no appearance in the U.S. News overall top 100, while Kellogg ranks 6th and Haas 7th.

Just three Jesuit schools make the top 100 list: Georgetown at 23rd, Boston College at 45th and Fordham University at 92nd. Oddly, those three schools hold only five spots between them in the specialty rankings, where they’re often rated below Jesuit schools that don’t appear in the overall rankings. In accounting, for example, Boston College sits at 21st, beneath Seattle University’s Albers at 14th, Loyola Marymount at 19th, and Loyola University Maryland at 20th. Remarkably, 15 Jesuit colleges – out of 28 in the U.S. – hold a total of 29 spots in U.S. News’ specialty rankings.

NO “NEFARIOUS ACTIVITY OF ANY SORT”

Those peculiar results have led to widespread rumors that the schools are consciously gaming U.S. News’ rankings, especially because they are baed solely on a survey of business school officials.  But school officials claim the results are less likely a sign of collusion than they are a consequence of familiarity. “I don’t believe that there’s any . . . nefarious activity of any sort here, but I do think that when you’re asking for kind of what I call a beauty-contest vote you’re more likely to vote for the schools that you’re most familiar with and that you have an affinity with,” says Joe Fox, who started a network of Jesuit MBA programs 30 years ago and is now associate dean and MBA programs director at non-Jesuit Washington University’s Olin School of Business. “They’re not trying to rig it, it just works in their favor that way.”

After all, the reason these marginal schools place so highly in the specialty rankings while appearing much lower overall comes down to the U.S. News’ methodology. While the overall rankings are based on numerous metrics, including GMAT scores, employment rates and starting salaries, the specialty rankings derive solely from nominations by business school deans, directors of accredited masters programs, and senior faculty in the schools surveyed. Each respondent can nominate up to 10 programs in each of the specialties. The ranking is based on the number of nominations received by each school, and any school receiving at least seven nominations makes the list. It’s to be expected that the schools ranked near the top of the overall list would feature prominently atop the specialty rankings, and they do. It’s also to be expected that toward the bottom of the specialty lists, where it takes a mere seven mentions to get on, an outlier or two might appear.

But 14 outliers? A conspiracy theorist might envision a gathering of black-robed Jesuit deans in a dark, candle-lit cellar, murmuring quietly among themselves before uttering solemn promises to support the brotherhood. Perhaps a bit more realistically, and minus the dramatic atmosphere, the theorist’s scenario might feature Jesuit deans in black bespoke suits sitting in their offices on a conference call that ends with much gleeful rubbing together of hands by the participants as they confirm their plot to game the system. So, what does the dean of Albers say, when asked whether his school is appropriately placed in the U.S. news accounting specialty ranking on an equal footing with Kellogg and Haas?