“Publish or perish.”
That’s the measuring stick in academia. Right or wrong, research – the creation of knowledge – is the engine that drives tenure and confers prestige in many programs. When it comes to business research, Wharton has been the undisputed champion.
For over a decade, Wharton has headlined the annual Top 100 Business School Research Rankings produced by the University of Texas-Dallas’ Jindal School of Management. And 2016 is no different, with Wharton again topping the rankings released on February 12th.
From 2011-2015, Wharton faculty cranked out 327 articles in 24 leading scholarly business journals, to produce an index score of 170.82. How dominant is Wharton in this space? Harvard Business School, the runner up to Wharton, published 255 articles in those same journals for a 123.99 score. And considered this: Combined, Chicago (Booth) and Stanford produced an index score of 174.23, barely 3.5 points more than Wharton alone. And here’s the real eye opener: The combined business research output by Berkeley (Haas), Yale, Virginia (Darden), and Dartmouth (Tuck) still falls eight articles short of Wharton according to the UT-Dallas metrics.
METHODOLOGY MISSING KEY METRICS
Of course, those metrics aren’t without critics. For starters, the ranking is really only a count of peer-reviewed papers over a five-year period based in a controlled scholarship universe. Each single-authored paper is worth one point to the school. However, in describing its methodology, the school notes that “if there are multiple authors from different schools, each school gets a score of p/n, where p is the number of authors from the same school and there are a total of n authors on the article.” The university adds that further scaling occurs when an author is affiliated with multiple schools.
In other words, the ranking focuses on quantity over quality. And that’s a key distinction. By stressing output, Jindal fails to measure, for example, how research is amplified based on the number of citations from other scholars – a key marker of quality. The methodology doesn’t place extra weight on research findings that break into the business mainstream and reach a mass audience through outlets like the Wall Street Journal or CNBC. It is also narrowly tailored to traditional business journals at the expense of business professors who are broadening the field by engaging in multidisciplinary collaborations or branching out into new fields like psychology or sociology. The field of economics is almost ignored altogether.
Beyond that, the emphasis on research volume penalizes smaller programs with fewer faculty members. As a result, such programs operate at a decided disadvantage, particularly against large research-driven state schools with big budgets and broad mandates. Naturally, such schools also trail naturally brand names that boast more courses, specialized and joint degree options, custom learning outlets, and even global locales. The ranking also ignores highly influential journals like The Harvard Business Review (which would’ve helped even the playing field between Harvard and Wharton), along with highly respected scholarly vehicles like the Academy of Management Perspectives, Journal of Management, Accounting, Organizations and Society, Contemporary Accounting Research, and Personnel Psychology.
Bottom line: Jindal is a niche ranking, not an all-inclusive package.
IN DEFENSE OF BUSINESS SCHOLARSHIP
So why should MBAs care about this ranking – let alone academic business research in general? The latter question is easier to answer. It is a sentiment grounded in the perception of business being more apprentice trade than scientific discipline. Who hasn’t heard business students snickering the proverbial “those who can do and those who can’t teach” mantra in nearly every lecture hall (often after their cherished idea has been sliced-and-diced and found wanting).
For business students – and the public at large – business people are doers. As a result, many believe the most valuable work in a business school involves “doing.” That may mean taking on outside consulting work that can be translated into tangible results (and classroom “war stories”). Aside from their professional experience, professors’ credibility is often tied to leadership roles with various associations, old guard press interviews, speaking engagements, book deals, awards, and fellowships. These days, the best professors are often associated with launching centers and morphing into academic rock stars via MOOCs.
Such attitudes place the cart before the horse. In reality, academic thought leaders start by operating in the shadows. Their epiphanies only emerge after a long and rigorous examination of data – a process marked by incomplete, inconclusive, and inconsistent findings – if not dead ends altogether. Practitioners may grab the headlines, but slow and steady research ultimately modifies the models, prophesizes the perils, and meshes the mindsets that formulate the future. No doubt, much research ends as a dried up husk buried in some dusty journal. However, other research eventually finds light and becomes the stuff of Good to Great and The Innovator’s Dilemma. At worst, research becomes the source of vibrant new course content – if not new courses themselves.
In other words, research, to borrow a phrase coined by General Colin Powell, is a force multiplier. It can serve as the inspiration, if not the foundation for larger discoveries. In an academic culture where students prize jobs, pay, and networking, research is part of the dual mission of academia: Great teaching that breaks down the complex and provides a path through the uncertain and great research that bulldozes barriers and broadens boundaries.