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Quantity Over Quality: The System That’s Hurting Business Schools Everywhere

Russell Winer, professor of marketing at NYU Stern, writes (with two colleagues) that the system that rewards B-school faculty for the number of research papers — quantity — and not their quality is having a negative impact on business schools, and thus on the sector as a whole

Professors from three elite business schools are calling for an overhaul of the research and publication system that faculty operate under in graduate business education — a system, they say, that is diminishing the overall quality of that education, and threatens to diminish it even further.

Stefan Stremersch of IESE in Barcelona, Spain; Russell S. Winer of NYU Stern School of Business in New York City; and Nuno Camacho of the Erasmus School of Economics in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, write in the Journal of Marketing that the current system that rewards faculty for number of research papers — quantity — is having a negative impact on the quality of instruction and research at business schools, and thus on the sector as a whole. “If business schools continue with this ‘broken’ model,” the authors write, “the overall quality of business school’s offering will diminish.”

“We see a serious of misalignments which can have important consequences on some business schools in particular, and on the sector as a whole,” the authors argue.

RESEARCH INCENTIVES ‘MISALIGNED’

IESE’s Stefan Stremersch

The authors surveyed 234 professors from 168 business schools, 64% of which are ranked Top 100 in the Financial Times Global MBA ranking, and completed 22 interviews with 14 associate deans and eight external institution stakeholders. Their paper, “Faculty Research Incentives and Business School Health: A New Perspective from and for Marketing,” questions the adequacy of incentives systems currently used to evaluate and remunerate research faculty in business schools and their impact in what they call “business school health.” The full document can be accessed here.

Among their findings:

  • Research quantity contributes to the research health of the school, but not to other aspects of business school health.
  • r-quality of research (i.e., rigor) contributes more strongly to the research health of the school than research quantity.
  • q-quality (i.e., practical importance) of research does not contribute to the research health of the school but contributes positively to teaching health and several other dimensions of business school health.

Faculty research incentives, the authors write, are misaligned in two main ways. First, when monitoring research faculty, the number of publications receives too much weight, while creativity, literacy, relevance, and awards receive too little weight. And second, on average, faculty feels that they are insufficiently compensated for their research, while (associate) deans feel they are compensated too much for their research.

“Business schools,” the authors write, “must reward faculty who produce fewer papers of high quality, and they must stop rewarding (and perhaps even penalize?) faculty who produce more publications of mediocre quality. They must recognize that, in sum, there can be negative marginal returns to encouraging faculty to focus only on research quantity.”

THOSE WHO PUBLISH MORE HAVE AN UNFAIR ADVANTAGE, AUTHORS WRITE

B-schools’ incentive models that reward quantity over quality jeopardize research output and the value faculty add to their business schools, the authors write.

The paper highlights how such systems favour faculty members who publish a large number of papers, while insufficiently evaluating the quality of the research and its relevance to businesses and society. According to the authors, such emphasis on quantity over creativity and quality encourages faculty to adopt poor practices such as “vita gaming” or “farming numbers” which, in turn, have a negative impact on business schools’ “health” and the business education sector overall.

“The practice of some schools to count the number of top journal publications of their faculty may be a good starting point for faculty evaluation but should never be the end point (which it too frequently is),” they argue.

The study also finds that there is a mismatch between the views of faculty of their own salaries, which they find low, and those of business school leaders who think academics are paid generously.

THE HEALTH OF BUSINESS SCHOOLS

In their paper, the authors define a business school’s health by how well it performs across three dimensions: technical, institutional, and managerial.

The technical aspect refers to the quality of research and teaching standards, finding that relevance and rigor are determining factors, surpassing research quantity. At the institutional level, healthy business schools attract strong external support and hold high institutional integrity in which faculty and students uphold the highest ethical standards. The managerial dimension is linked to a school’s resources, and its administrative and leadership support.

Schools which ranked worst in “health” had incentive systems heavily rewarding quantity — e.g., number of papers produced — when hiring and promoting faculty, the authors write. At the same time, “such schools gave too little weight to more essential characteristics of excellent scholars, such as creativity, literacy, relevance, and awards given by peers,” they explain.

“Our key recommendation is that business school leaders design incentive systems that take this holistic set of outcomes into account,” they write. “This will require some schools to recalibrate the metrics by which they assess faculty research, which will take effort. But only then will academic research fully support the long-term health of their institutions.”

DON’T MISS B-SCHOOL PROFESSOR: MOST FACULTY RESEARCH FAILS IN 1 IMPORTANT WAY