No question, this past year was a doozy for misbehavior in the business school world. Two of the lead figures in the Top 10 B-School Scandals and Controversies of 2014 defrauded millions from investors. One business school was reported to have resorted to deception through exaggeration in order to boost enrollment and donations. An elite MBA program’s students were called out as booze-swilling, sex-crazy spendthrifts prone to mocking a poor sod who just wanted to do his damn schoolwork. Then there were the Jesuit schools, popping up in surprising places in a major set of rankings, raising the specter of conspiracy. Not to mention the epic Great Sichuan Chicken War, pitting an irate Harvard Business School professor against a family-owned Chinese restaurant. Taken together, these Top 10 stories show business school as a microcosm of the world, in all its pettiness and grandeur – and no shortage of the quirky, the kooky, the crooked, and the criminal.
Harvard Business School professor Benjamin Edelman was mocked and disparaged world-wide after his dispute with a Boston-area Chinese restaurant over a $4 take-out overcharge went public, and viral. Though many saw Edelman’s prickly correspondence with a restaurant representative – and escalating demands for compensation – as petty and bullying, Poets&Quants took the position that the professor, a dedicated and capable consumer-protection activist, was correct in his actions, though unnecessarily aggressive in his approach. Multiplying a small overcharge by the number of take-out orders per week could amount to thousands of dollars. And false advertised prices would give the restaurant an unfair competitive advantage over competitors. Edelman apologized, but he shouldn’t have – Sichuan Garden had it coming.
Last year it was a Stanford Graduate School of Business professor railing against a prevailing business student culture of booze and fancy cars. This year it was an anonymous Harvard Business School candidate decrying an HBS student culture of costly meals, “hook-ups and drunken shenanigans.” The international student, writing in the HBS newspaper, claimed his studiousness and unwillingness to get plastered with his peers made him a butt of jokes over meals at restaurants such as Sorellina, where a grilled octopus appetizer cost $19.
MBAs could be excused for wondering whether it was Businessweek or Vice magazine that was asking the questions about their business programs. “During your MBA program, approximately how many alcoholic beverages did you drink in an average week?” went one of the questions. “Do you identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual?” went another. “Is your MBA program a good place for a single person to find casual dating partners?” went a third. After complaints from business school students and deans, Businessweek dumped the questions – so much for a story on “Top Schools for Drunken Bisexual Hook-ups.”
The University of North Carolina’s highly respected Kenan-Flagler Business School found itself associated with a widely deplored marketing technique – and a goat farmer from the Appalachians. It turned out that the school’s highly regarded online MBA program, in partnership with an educational technology company, had involved itself with some highly questionable rankings put out by a colorful character – with an even more colorful alter ego – from Tennessee who specialized in “pay per lead” content marketing that put Kenan-Flagler in the disreputable company of a number of low-end for-profit schools.
World domination through telemarketing and kickbacks? Hult International Business School has a dubious reputation for the quality of its programs, but its voracious recruitment campaign has turned it into the largest graduate business school on the planet, with enrollment dwarfing that of major players including IE Business School in Spain and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. School officials make no apologies for their recruitment strategies, as the school’s barely more than a decade old, a short time to build up a strong brand. While Hult remains somewhat of a laughing stock on internet chat forums, it’s difficult to assess its impact on students because graduates are reluctant to sling mud at an institution that appears on their resumes.