Wharton MBA Slams Teaching Quality

Wharton School of Business

A current Wharton student has launched a scathing attack on the quality of teaching in the school’s MBA program, laying blame for what the student calls “cartoonishly bad” teaching squarely on the shoulders of Wharton’s senior leadership. The student, writing anonymously in the student newspaper, The Wharton Journal, lambasted one professor in particular for “reading someone else’s slides aloud” and becoming “visibly annoyed” by questions in class.

“Students dropped out in droves, complained to academic advisors, but ultimately bore the brunt of his sloppy syllabus and demotivating indifference,” the MBA student wrote in a highly critical essay entitled “Wharton Doesn’t Care About Teaching. Why Should We Care About Academics?” “Professor X garnered a rating of 1.27 out of 4 for instructor quality, implying that, at best, 73% of the 159 students surveyed gave him the lowest possible rating. Professor X is back in the classroom this fall.”

The quality of teaching in many elite MBA programs has long been uneven and inconsistent, largely because of the outsized emphasis business schools place on academic research in promotion and tenure decisions. That often comes as a surprise to students who expect a world class institution with a highly ranked MBA program to deliver top-notch teaching quality. But students are often disappointed.

STUDENT RATINGS FOR WHARTON TEACHING IS WELL BELOW BOTH PEER SCHOOLS & LESSER-RANKED RIVALS

Among the leading schools, Wharton is clearly a laggard when it comes to MBA teaching. The Economist, which surveys alumni from top schools annually, last year reported that the student rating of Wharton faculty ranked the school 70th among 100 schools. That is not only well below all of Wharton’s M7 peers. It is also below most U.S. business schools that are ranked in the Top 25 on most lists.

Wharton, for example, gained a lowly 4.55 grade from surveyed alumni in last year’s Economist survey. In contrast, Chicago Booth is ranked fourth, with a score of 4.88, while Harvard is sixth, with a score of 4.80. The school generally regarded to have the most outstanding MBA teaching faculty is the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business which ranked third in the latest Economist survey, with a 4.81 score.

Teaching quality is also not a new issue at Wharton. A few years ago, an analysis by Poets&Quants of the teaching grades in BusinessWeek’s then biennial B-school rankings showed that Wharton faculty have never been in the top 20th percentile of the survey in teaching quality over a 24-year period that BusinessWeek shared those teaching scores with readers.

SCHOOL’S ‘LOFTY RHETORIC IS REGRETTABLY DISCONNECTED FROM THE CLASSROOM EXPERIENCE’

Geoffrey Garrett took over as Wharton’s new dean on July 1, 2014

Though the published essay is “anonymous,” it was published by the student editors of The Wharton Journal who clearly vouched for the fact that the critic is a current student.

“There are, of course, a few great professors at Wharton but the average experience is at best average and the bottom quartile is cartoonishly bad,” wrote the student in the critique published Oct. 20.. “Students at Wharton are besieged with grand admonitions by administrators to take full advantage of the school’s unmatched and exceptional curricular opportunities. This lofty rhetoric is regrettably disconnected from the classroom experience. Wharton fails to provide its students with a guaranteed minimum level of teaching quality despite receiving $70,200 a year in tuition from each student and benefitting from the support of wealthy alumni. There are deeper and more existential questions that plague the MBA value proposition; however, teaching quality is an aspect of the student experience that Wharton can control.”

The student author the zeroes in on a specific example of an unnamed professor in the core MBA curriculum. “Professor X taught an accelerated version of a core course last fall. Professor X’s course was the worst single academic experience for many of the students in his class. He went through the motions of reading someone else’s slides aloud and was visibly annoyed by student questions. Students dropped out in droves, complained to academic advisors, but ultimately bore the brunt of his sloppy syllabus and demotivating indifference. Professor X garnered a rating of 1.27 out of 4 for instructor quality, implying that, at best, 73% of the 159 students surveyed gave him the lowest possible rating. Professor X is back in the classroom this fall.”

  • Realistically..

    it will be hard to know which ones are really good at this for certain. Berkeley/Haas is mentioned below and has a very well curated program, I have heard. The data mentioned below on MIT looks fairly promising. My suspicion is that the quality of these kinds of experiences may vary a bit — though presumably well organized programs will have screened against weaker experiences offered by companies. Stanford does a nice job of bringing in company leaders from Silicon Valley to help teach classes or class sessions — not experiential per se, but getting at the experience of top tech leaders….. Honestly speaking, for this kind of experiential training, I would imagine well located schools (Columbia, NYU, HBS, MIT, Booth, Kellogg, Berkeley, Stanford, UCLA, etc.) might have the best access to these kinds of course experiences. Harder to be well tied into a firm from Ithaca or Hanover, for instance… That’s a guess, though.

  • MBA/MPA

    Berkeley Haas is definitely the best in this area with the most interest from top companies. Look into Haas@work.

  • Nope

    It doesn’t beg that question.

  • Representative Sample…

    This is just one account of one student critiquing one professor for one class. Every top business school has a handful of profs who are good at research but awful at teaching. This was definitely not my experience at Wharton in most of my classes.

  • Stop

    stop the trolling. Yale SOM is not elite.

  • CimaGuru5

    Wharton profs prioritizing research over teaching is nothing new. Wharton students rated in older surveys teaching with B to C. This phenomenon has been around and the past administrators have not changed it. This taints the educational experience. Agree that teaching excellence should be part of evaluation.

  • ingerandtimb@gmail.com

    From what I can tell, MIT’s experiential program is the best. The firms/issues they work with are well chosen and the student travel is often funded by the hosting firm. You really have to look passed the “experiential/international” learning hype of most schools and check out the real nuts and bolts of the projects. MIT posts some of the details online, and I’ve also spoken to someone at the school about the trips at length – I’m sure they’re fine answering general questions about the purpose of the teams and the firms that host them. To be clear, I’ve never been to MIT, but I was impressed by what I heard about their team-based live case methods.

    What all schools should be doing is integrating more of these live cases into routine teaching with projects that target a specific class (finance, leadership communication, social activism, etc. – heck, how about big data issues or social media outreach challenges) The students should be able to work the case for 1-2 days and give feedback to someone at the firm (head of HR, CFO, public affairs) and give their findings and recommendations via VTC. The case can be a little dated and still be effective – especially if the firm has already chosen to go one direction that hasn’t yet delivered enough results/data to tell if it was the best answer. Non-biased perspective is so important to leaders who often get very rosy scenario or firm-culture-based answers from their own people – the fresh perspective is huge for the firm and students get to do something real with what they have learned.

  • ingerandtimb@gmail.com

    For those who have not had these experiences, I can see why you might be skeptical. For “everyone” that has, you almost can’t appreciate any other form of education. Many programs are trying at “experiential learning” but for the ones that are carefully selecting these opportunities with the wisdom of high-end consulting, cutting-edge issues, and the academia it becomes a great experience that really can’t be challenged with anything done in a classroom.

  • avivalasvegas

    If the students are learning from worst in class faculty, that begs the question, what kind of graduates does Wharton produce?

  • halo

    Balanced, academic view? There’s nothing balanced about academia, especially lifetime academics, and MBA is not an academic degree, but rather a professional degree. Addressing gaps in ones’ knowledge argument I can buy, but not from a lifetime academic. The purpose of having “off-topic”, “ambiguous” and “dramatically varied content and quality” of cases is the entire point to prepare future “leaders” for what lies ahead in the real world. It sure as hell isn’t neatly presented in real world as is in an HBR case study.

  • Informed individual

    Inaccurate.

  • SOM is the best

    This goes to show how fast Wharton is slipping while schools like Yale SOM is going up up and up. Everyone can agree that in about 4-5 years Yale SOM will likely be in top 3 with H/S.

  • Wharton First Year

    I’m a current student at Wharton, and my professors have been great. The post represents a real, relevant perspective, but it certainly does not represent the standard experience. Those Economist scores are very questionable. 4.55 / 5 deserving 70th place? Talk about grade inflation on that survey…

    Sure, accelerated stats / accounting don’t have the best reputation, but much of the material ends up being self taught anyway in some core courses. Professors as a whole are engaged, dynamic and leave room for classroom discussion with your accomplished peers. Is there room for improvement, absolutely? Tenure can be a source of sustained mediocrity and stale teaching styles. But Wharton overall remains a powerful academic experience, in and out of the classroom.

    We all know Poets & Quants just can’t help itself from a controversial Wharton story…

  • Biggie

    That’s ridiculous. You’d replace cases and projects carefully engineered around a set of concepts with a “real wold” case that might be totally off topic, ambiguous, and vary dramatically in content and quality? Part of the beauty of MBA programs is that it’s a rare opportunity to get a balanced, academic view of specific gaps in your knowledge. Applicants already spent 3-5 years in the real world; they aren’t paying 70k a year to work for free, they want a tailored academic experience.

  • amir g

    Which MBA programs are good at this?

  • ingerandtimb@gmail.com

    Schools that have not adopted a thorough experiential learning and “live case method” system are so behind the times they should be shamed by these publications. Any world-class business school, and any business/law/engineering school that aspires to be world class, should be transitioning all of its focused/high-impact content to working on real projects with real firms/clients. This is the only real way to ensure the effective application of academic material and should be a staple of all graduate school work. Schools that rely on power point, lecture, old school notional cases are dinosaurs and should not be receiving accolades for anything. Applying the academic material to a real world case with a company hoping to receive valuable insights through the academic and objective look at a problem should be what an MBA is all about. The best schools should be linking up with top companies to offer truly demanding and rewarding live cases to their students. The academic community needs a reality check on the value they provide students – especially when education takes so much commitment and financial resources.

  • halo

    And this is news? I thought it was widely known that the value of top MBA is that it allows students access that they couldn’t otherwise have. Access to successful alumni and name brand companies. I think $200k is a bit high price tag just to increase your manhood, but if the market is willing to bear the price, more power to the schools.

  • Gina

    A little over a year ago, I was in a community college taking small business management classes and the Business Law professor I had was sloppy and inconsistent, often setting assignments for readings the class. They claimed it was an “accelerated” course but it was just sloppy and when I spoke up, I was left feeling like I was the one at fault. I dropped the class. But it really shows that although students should expect more from some schools and programs of higher caliber, the problem isn’t isolated to those schools. Just because a person is respected in his or her field, does not mean he or she makes a good teacher. Being a good teacher means organizing a class and being compassionate and patient with students who don’t know as much as the professors.

  • Emily

    Not too long ago, I went to Penn for a MS in engineering and took an MBA class at Wharton, it was bad. I was not sure if that professor was representative of the whole teaching staff for MBA.

  • Consulting Grad

    Not really, no. If they’re a target program (which Wharton is for us) we care about the candidates, not the program. To a large degree, you can’t fault students for the program’s half-hearted approach to academics.

  • John Eehuts

    I think those who are lucky enough to have punched their meal ticket for life with participation in the Wharton MBA program, should stop complaining about stupid things. At the end of the day, pull your pants up and deal with bad teaching. Take this as a lesson in reallocating your professional focus, as you have other classes to focus on besides this one. The fact that this is a big deal suggests that some of the students at Wharton are not likely as smart as their high GMAT scores suggest.

  • Ross

    I would like to know that as well

  • Derek

    My experience happened to be the complete opposite as this anonymous poster. Agreed, though, that the 1-2 lowest rated professors (or adjunct professors who are balancing outside industry with teaching) should be asked to up their games because a bad apple spoils the bunch.

  • amir g

    This sucks. Imagine sacrificing absurd amounts of time and money getting into a top program only to watch someone reading Powerpoint slides.
    By the way, do hiring companies even care about academic quality of an MBA program?

  • HarvardWinsAgain

    How is Darden ranked 3 (highest on the list) but Chicago Booth has the highest score?

    What am I missing here?

    Kudos to Darden – the Harvard copycat 😉

  • WhartonSucks

    Or high student expectations where anything lower than a 4 is bad.

  • I am a visiting professor at several business schools and universities around the world. I can relate to the critique. I think it has a lot to do with professors who have been too long in the same place and maybe haven’t seen the world around them has changed.

    That said, it is also my experience that some students at some schools expect to entertained more than educated and some students have a very short attention spam – despite they are at a top-tier business school.

    The dialogue is need because change is needed on both sides

  • Rankings-are-misleading

    The fact that a 4.55 out of 5 is “lowly” and a bad enough score to place you almost bottom quartile in the Economist says heaps about the survey grade inflation going on in MBA rankings. Everybody just puts 5 on everything, with a few small exceptions.