To Rank Or Not To Rank: Deans’ Conclave Debates Merits Of B-School Rankings

Geoff Garrett, dean of USC Marshall: “The challenge for us all is to help the world understand what business education actually is about, and change the conversation in a way that will be really helpful for all of our institutions”


Paul Almeida, dean of Georgetown McDonough, said that while “all of us, at least at times, find ranking extremely distasteful, especially when we do badly in them, or relatively badly,” he still understood the demand. “I think all of us agree there are many severe limitations to rank things as they currently do,” Almeida said. “Having said that, the market seems to have this ravenous appetite for rankings, and we just have to admit that’s a reality, whether we like it or not. And sometimes presidents and provosts also want to be judging a few things.

“So I think both makes a lot of sense. I think we have to work towards improving the rankings in whatever way we can.”

Sri Zaheer, who is stepping down as dean at Minnesota Carlson after 11 years, decried the emphasis on career outcomes that compares schools in very different regions, serving different industries. It’s apples and oranges, she said.

“All of us have slightly different missions,” Zaheer said. “We serve different corporate environments, we serve different communities, and that makes a huge difference. For instance, in our case, about 60% of our students go into consumer marketing jobs, where the starting salaries are lower. But am I going to insist that, ‘Hey, listen, let’s direct more of our students to go to Wall Street?’ I don’t think that makes any sense. It’s not serving the corporate population, which is hungry for talent from us. I mean, so much apples and oranges: There’s this effort to try and assume that all the business schools are exactly the same in terms of what they do. It’s not driven by the majority of really good business schools.”


Doug Shackelford, dean of UNC Kenan-Flagler, said rankings’ focus on numbers is the problem.

“I think, in many ways, once you put the number there, no one else sees anything else,” he said. “That number is overwhelming. And I think of it this way: If you ask me, ‘What is the best car?’ That’s not a useful question because I need to know, ‘What do you want do with your car?’ So it’s hard to say what’s the best car.” Addressing FT’s Andrew Jack, he added: “If you thought of yourself as something like Consumer Reports, which just lays out a lot of information, and then the consumer can decide, because I’m not sure I have the right car for students. I’ve got the right car for some students. (Tuck’s) Matthew (Slaughter) may have the right car for some other students.

“So I think just dump all the information out that you guys find and then let the consumer sort through it, that is better than trying to say that my school is better than Matthew’s, or his school is better than mine. Because for some students, it is true, but once you put a number, you have forced it.

“And I see this way too often, where students come to our school because it’s ranked higher than some other school. And they make a bad decision because they’d actually be better at a lower-ranked school and vice versa. So I would say, if you’re trying to maximize social welfare, think about dropping the number and dumping the information down.”


What will come of this summit? In March, Geoff Garrett said he hoped it would lead to the creation of a better, more holistic B-school ranking. “What I would like to see,” he told P&Q, “is better rankings of the other important things that business schools do.” He gave P&Q a nod for its undergraduate ranking, which employs a complex methodology unlike the U.S. News ranking of undergrad programs, which “is just a beauty contest” where he and other deans are simply asked “What do you think?”

“They can do better,” Garrett said. “I’d like to try to help them do better — so, having something like the attention that’s currently paid to full-time MBA, paid to undergraduate. I think that’d be great.”

“That was basically what I said to all the deans. I said, ‘Hey, we’re all comprehensive schools. Let’s sit down together and talk about how we should think about that.’ The communication impact of the rankings in business schools is massive. So we’d like to be communicating more accurately what we do — that’s the way I think about it.”

Speaking to Poets&Quants before the summit with her fellow deans, Tepper’s Bajeux-Besnainou said she wanted to attend because of the importance of the topic.

“We are a comprehensive business school,” she said. “So it’s not only the MBA program, but more than that. And I think being recognized as a comprehensive business school, where we educate all the different generations, is something really important. It’s very important for me.”

Bajeux-Besnainou started her career in Paris before spending more than two decades at George Washington University, where she eventually became associate dean for undergraduate programs. “So undergraduate programs are very close to my heart. I think at Tepper we have amazing undergraduate students and they’re just doing amazingly well in an environment at Carnegie Mellon that is very interdisciplinary. So I think it’s really wonderful because I also think that in undergraduate business education, it’s really important to be more than just business skills.


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