‘SCHOOLS ARE FAILING TO INCULCATE ANY REAL SENSE OF MORAL OBLIGATION IN THEIR STUDENTS’
In her essay, Gittleson concedes she hadn’t thought deeply about the purpose of an MBA before going to Columbia Business School. “Now, after two years, I’m convinced that business schools in general are failing to inculcate any real sense of direction or moral obligation in their students,” she writes.
Cashman, the spokesperson for CBS, notes that “we continually remind both prospective and current students to understand exactly why they are pursuing an MBA degree and how they plan to use it after graduation. Those who do not intrinsically understand why they are undertaking such a rigorous two-year pursuit often end up not realizing the full benefit of their degree. Based on the feedback the student provided in her article, we will take a look to see if we can strengthen delivery of these messages to our students throughout their MBA journey.”
Based on the graduate’s views, the school would do well to get those messages out. “In my experience, business-school coursework is treated as a nuisance, helped by the proliferation of ‘grade non-disclosure’ at the nation’s leading schools. The core curriculum lacks a core, and even the most dedicated students find it hard to acquire a substantial body of learning. While some professors try valiantly to instill a sense of social mission, their efforts are usually overwhelmed by a pervasive ethos of greed.
“In one course, students were cautioned against careers in investment banking, not because jobs were getting harder to find, but because living on $800,000 a year in New York (the typical managing director’s salary) was just untenable. Sexism abounds: In my introductory leadership course, the only non-male example mentioned on the first day was Joan of Arc. RIP female leadership, 1431.”
THE MBA SEEMS TO ‘BOILD DOWN TO CONSPICUOUS CONSUMPTION’
There’s more, of course. “The business-school experience seems to boil down to conspicuous consumption (class trips to exotic locales, meticulously documented on social media, are much in favor), ceaseless networking, and not much actual learning. Business schools are increasingly divorced from their university environment and feel more like, well, businesses. For decades now, universities have built up this product line, using it to subsidize other schools and turning a blind eye to what is and isn’t taught. Increasingly, the students look like customers who’ve been overcharged.
“Business schools’ main value proposition is entry into high-paying sectors like hedge funds –- but this advantage is eroding. In my class, one of the most sought-after tech employers told potential hires they should start work right away instead of finishing their degree. This suggests that the main value of business school is not what you learn but the admission committee’s ability to screen. Friends working in private equity say they’ve been advised against getting an MBA: Firms are increasingly willing to hire and promote people without one.”
Gittleson concludes her essay, which she says was edited by Bloomberg, by quoting social critic Walter Lippman from “Drift and Mastery.” Men with a business education, he wrote, would far surpass mere merchants who had “no discipline for making wisdom out of experience.” Lippman argued that turning business into a profession with educational requirements would lead to “a fellowship of interest, a standard of ethics, an esprit de corps, and a decided discipline… something more than a desire to accumulate and outshine their neighbors.”
BACK TO JOURNALISM, AT LEAST FOR THE SHORT-TERM
Business schools, she writes, should return to this ideal. “An MBA should be more than a passport to a six-figure job,” maintains Gittleson. “As Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana has argued, schools need to rethink their purpose. They’ve been too much guided by the idea that managers are mere agents of shareholders, accountable only for their success or failure in making profits. Business as a profession — akin to medicine and the law — calls for a wider outlook and deeper sense of obligation. Professional training in business needs to raise its sights. A new focus on entrepreneurship with a social purpose would be a good start.”
So far, the essay has prompted many MBAs, including those who had earned their degrees as long as 30 years ago, to write Gittleson with their own views–many disputing her account of the experience. For now, she plans to return to journalism, a field that tends to value contrarian and skeptical perspectives, but she could be open to another industry later in her career.
Gittleson, meantime, expresses concern that her negative review could hurt the chances of other journalists to gain an MBA fellowship at Columbia. “Whether or not journalism is something I would do for the next 30 years, I don’t want to damage the opportunity for other journalists to get the degree,” she says. “I am going to go back to journalism at least for the short term.”
Cashman says that “regardless of the opinions she is now expressing, the student who wrote this article is armed with an incredible education, a supportive global network, and a degree that will allow her to pursue and thrive in any career path she chooses. Regardless of her current feelings, I hope she does not lose sight of this. Columbia is and always has been a place that supports and defends the free and open exchange of ideas. Columbia is a place of continuous improvement, and a community that doesn’t turn its back on its own. It is supremely disappointing that Kim chose not to share her frustrations with us while a student, but she is – and always will be – a member of our community, and like all members we welcome and encourage their feedback.”