Wharton Holds Top Spot In Academic Research Ranking

University of Texas-Dallas

FLAWED METHODOLOGY PENALIZES SMALL SCHOOLS

How are schools measured? As noted earlier, the ranking targets 24 leading academic journals that cover the major disciplines, including accounting, finance, operations, marketing, management, international business, and information systems. You won’t find any Publisher’s Clearinghouse titles on the list; Think Academy of Management Journal, Organization Science, The Review of Financial Studies, Journal of Accounting and Economics, and Journal of Marketing Research. The methodology can be boiled down to this: It is a count of peer-reviewed papers from schools covering these 24 journals. Each school paper gets credited with a point. In cases where a paper has a multiple authors from different schools, the number of authors from a particular school is divided by the total number of authors.

Despite the methodology’s transparency, its simplicity opens it up to several criticisms. The biggest one, of course, is that only measures the volume, not the impact, of each school’s research. In this ranking, every paper is treated as equal. Quality is not even factored into the equation, which skews the ranking towards programs with larger faculty that can churn out research in droves (Think Wharton, Harvard, and NYU — which also happen to occupy the top three spots).

The Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto tied Harvard for 3rd in the Financial Times‘ 2017 research ranking.

The gulf between large and small schools would be difficult to bridge in any research ranking (though a separate data set showing the percentage of faculty who’ve published in the 24 journals would reflect a school’s overall research prowess). However, Jindal could reflect each school’s true research capabilities by incorporating an instrument like Google Scholar, which collects the number of research citations attributed to papers. In this model, the influence of papers can be weighed, with more ground-breaking and cited research earning more points. This could also further quantify a school’s reach across academia as a whole.

The Jindal ranking is also rather narrow and stale, tethered to the same academic journals for the past 27 years. Notably, the list excludes the popular Harvard Business Review. At the same time, it also ignores journals with high impact scores like Journal of Management, Journal of Business Venturing, Journal of Management Studies, and Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. Even more, it ignores the multidisciplinary nature of business research. By concentrating exclusively on a set of business titles, it fails to acknowledge the contributions made by business school faculty in disciplines like the social sciences. At the same time, the list also excludes research-laden books published by faculty, which tend to resonate more thanks to being abridged or cited in mainstream articles or promoted through interviews and speaking engagements.

STANFORD AND WASHINGTON FARE BETTER IN FINANCIAL TIMES RESEARCH RANKING

Jindal isn’t alone in producing a research-driven ranking. As part of its annual MBA rankings, The Financial Times (FT) also devotes 10% of its ranking weight to research. Here, FT expands the universe to 50 journals, double the sample size used by Jindal. Even more, FT addresses the large program vs. small program conundrum by combining “the absolute number of publications with the number weighted relative to the faculty’s size.”

Were the results different? Not at the top, where Wharton again wore the crown. Below that, several surprises popped up. For one, NYU replaced Harvard as the runner-up to Wharton, with the University of Toronto tying Harvard for third. Stanford remains a top five research program with FT, as does INSEAD. What about the University of Texas-Dallas, which holds home field advantage in its own research ranking? Its high stature is warranted. It finished 15th in the world. More important, it ranked higher than the University of Texas at Austin, reinforcing its stature as the top business research school in the Lone Star State.

Haas School of Business at UC-Berkeley. UC photo

Thanks to neutralizing the big school advantage, the FT rankings include some notable surprises. First, the University of Washington, which places 21st with Jindal, finishes 7th in the FT ranking (tying it with MIT and Columbia). The University of California-Berkeley climbs from 32nd to 12th, while the London Business School and Cornell jump from 25th to 12th and 36th to 17th respectively. By the same token, the University of Minnesota plunged from 13th in Jindal to 33rd with FT, once size is minimized and the number of journals is doubled. USC suffered a similar fate, going from 8th to 33rd.

DOES RESEARCH MATTER ANYMORE?

In popular culture, academics are often divided into teachers and researchers. In this conception, teachers focus on students and dabble in research when time permits. In contrast, researchers view teaching as the cross they must bear in order to pay for their research. Both trade in stereotypes, but they reveal a divide in business school culture. Here, the question is, does research really matter? Has it become — take your pick — too abstract, arcane, limited, or disconnected? In a discipline known for practical action, does research bring value and consequence or is it simply a way to gain tenure?

Pirkul has wrestled with this same question. He comes squarely down on the side of research. Over his career, Pirkul has seen business faculty steadily place greater emphasis on solving practical problems. For him, research not only keeps faculty sharp and attuned, but also provides an avenue for students to gain practical wisdom that was never available before.

“You have to start from the point that business school is a professional school,” he points out. “We ought to be focused on applied research. That doesn’t mean that we should ignore theoretical research. If all we do is theoretical research, we’re not tied into today. That will show up in our lectures and the way that we design our program. You need the richness of the applied and the theoretical. You have to do both and each benefits from the other.”

To see how your favorite MBA programs ranked in both the Jindal and Financial Times rankings, go to the next page.

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