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Former Columbia Dean: B-Schools Must Adjust To MBA Students’ Growing Skepticism

THE WALL AND THE BRIDGE: FEAR AND OPPORTUNITY IN DISRUPTION’S WAKE

Hubbard says that the current economic issues we’re seeing aren’t new. In fact, when we look at what’s happened to the economy historically, we can gain context around the current state of business. “The reason I teach Modern Political Economy is to give students the sense that over the centuries, we’ve seen this play before,” he continues. “We’ve seen the ups and downs. And the question is, how do you build yourself to be a better leader?”

To help people gain a new perspective on the economy and what can be changed to encourage collective success, he recently published The Wall and the Bridge: Fear and Opportunity in Disruption’s Wake with Yale University Press. Written as a reaction to the current economic and political landscape, this book makes an argument for an economic policy based on bridges of preparation and adaptation rather than walls of protection and inclusion. Here, he promotes equal opportunity by suggesting tangible steps that the U.S can take, such as providing block grants for community colleges, putting applied research centers around the country to help disseminate knowledge, as well as expanding the earned-income tax credit.

“Politically, I worried that democracy itself was at risk from populist forces from the right and the left, both of whom wanted to tell people, ‘I can make it like it used to be. I’ll build protection for you,’” he says. “But if the other side doesn’t come up with a bridge, which is a metaphor I talk about in the book that refers to ways of helping people, then we’re giving ground to a wall. I wanted to give voice to economists who say, ‘Look, we’ve had it with the wall. It’s time to talk about new ways to prepare people for opportunities.’”

‘BUSINESSES HAVE TO STEP UP TO THE PLATE’

Hubbard says that building bridges, not walls, would create both challenges and opportunities for business – and business schools. “It would mean that businesses have to step up to the plate,” he says. “But I’m encouraged by these MBA students’ skepticism because they are the future business leaders. They’re the ones who have a stake in this debate.”

He hopes that The Wall and the Bridge: Fear and Opportunity in Disruption’s Wake helps MBA students gain a sense of perspective and inspire new ways to create economic equality. “We’ve had a lot of these debates and discussions before,” he says.

“I hope this book lets MBA students take a deep breath and realize that many of today’s questions have been asked before. They’ve been raised by classic thinkers like Schumpeter, Hayek, Smith and Marx. Very few problems are new.”

THE NEW WAVE OF MBA STUDENTS

Not only is the MBA mindset changing, so are the students themselves.

While the stereotypical MBA candidate used to be a junior banker or consultant, Hubbard says CBS is seeing more and more students from nontraditional backgrounds, like nonprofit or public service. According to him, now more than ever, students care deeply about pressing issues like climate change and equity, and are acting with a sense of urgency. For the many capital-critical students, it’s imperative that business schools adapt their curriculum to keep up with their changing mindsets.

Hubbard’s confident that CBS is adapting to these shifts. “I think we’re anticipating changes and shifting at the same time,” he says. “Students are pushing us to do more, and I think that’s terrific. I’m quite optimistic about their ability to be good leaders as a result.”

Aside from student trips to Ohio and Alabama, another way that the school is addressing pressing issues is at the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise. With the purpose of helping to solve social and environmental challenges, students here learn how to combine business knowledge, entrepreneurial skills, and management tools to make an impact.

‘ALL BUSINESS SCHOOLS ARE GOING TO ENCOUNTER SKEPTICISM IN THE APPLICANT POOL’

While businesses will continue to push for more globalization and technological advancement, Hubbard says that if they want MBA students to contribute, they’ll need to embrace strategies that increase economic opportunities for everyone. He believes that corporations shouldn’t just be an economic construct, but social and political constructs, too.

He believes that it’s time that MBA admissions embrace and expect this outlook from applicants; it’s a reflection of the reality that should be represented in MBA programs.

“All business schools are going to encounter skepticism in the applicant pool,” he says. “I think the challenge for business schools is to not pull this skepticism closer, nor push it away. Instead, we should be showing how we’re going to tackle these challenges and hope that that meets their intellectual needs just as it meets ours.”

DON’T MISS 10 YEARS LATER: HOW COLUMBIA BUSINESS SCHOOL WEATHERED THE FINANCIAL MELTDOWN and CBS FOLLIES: THE LIGHTER SIDE OF HIGH TUITION & REGRETTABLE ROMANCES