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New journal takes aim at business schools

July 1, 2002

For more information, contact: Benjamin Haimowitz,

As if the current scandals and turmoil of corporate America were not causing enough soul-searching in America's business schools, more is likely to ensue from the first issue of a new quarterly journal devoted to management education.

In the inaugural issue of Academy of Management Learning and Education, dated September, several eminent management scholars take aim at some of business education's most vaunted claims. Meanwhile, another article describes a new version of MBA education - a highly innovative program that very well could be the model for the education of top managers in the future.

The most wide-ranging criticism of business schools comes from one of the country's leading management scholars, Jeffrey Pfeffer of Stanford University, and a Stanford doctoral student Christina T. Fong.

In an article entitled "The End of Business Schools? Less Success than Meets the Eye," Pfeffer and Fong argue that, although "at first blush business schools are the success story of late twentieth-century education...there is little evidence that mastery of the knowledge acquired in business schools enhances people's careers or that even attaining the MBA credential itself has much effect on graduates' salaries or career attainment. Similarly, the impact of business school research...appears to be quite small."

Business schools, they conclude, need to be doing a lot more to address the realities of the business world.

Further excerpts from their article follow.


Doubts about relevance and effectiveness.  "Although business schools and business education have been commercial successes, there are substantial questions about the relevance of their educational products and doubts about their effects on both the careers of their graduates and on management practice. These concerns, coupled with the rise of many competitors... mean that business schools may soon confront some substantial challenges."

MBAs: no edge where there ought to be.  "If there is a job that ought to be connected to the MBA degree, it is management consulting...Internal studies conducted by [consulting] firms found that the non-MBAs did no worse and, in some cases, better than their business school counterparts...A study at McKinsey of people on the job 1, 3, and 7 years found that at all three points the people without MBAs were as successful as those with the degree."

Curricular stagnation. "A large body of evidence suggests that the curriculum taught at business schools has only a small relationship to what is important for succeeding in business... Curricula have changed little over time...This is not to say that curricula haven't changed to incorporate new knowledge -- obviously they have. But the basic structure of courses and the basic concepts have remained remarkably similar."

Learning the talk but not the walk.  "In relatively few instances in established business schools is there much clinical training or learning by doing...Students learn to talk about business, but it is not clear they learn business...What is unique [about business schools] is the degree of separation that differentiates business from other professional schools -- differences in terms of the proportion of faculty who move in and out of the profession or who practice it regularly, and the extent to which curricula in the various professions are or are not linked to the concerns of the profession and directly oriented toward preparing the students to practice that profession."

Research: more prestige than influence.  "One goal of business school research is to enhance the prestige of the business school where the research is done. There is evidence that research does achieve that goal...The second to influence, either proximately or remotely, the practice of management. Here the evidence indicates considerably more modest results...Although academics are influenced by practitioners, little influence flows from academics to industry."

The threat posed by competition.  "The fact that business schools apparently have not done a better job in either the educational or research missions leaves them more vulnerable to focused criticism, attack, and competition. Yes, competition...In every domain in which they operate, business schools face competitors that, for the most part, are not necessarily playing by the same rules...For business schools to lose this coming competition would be unfortunate and unnecessary...All that is required is for business schools to model themselves more closely on their other professional school counterparts and less on arts and sciences departments. This entails focusing research on phenomena and problems of enduring importance and building curricula that are evaluated, in part, by how well they actually prepare students to be effective in practicing the profession."


Also critical of the scholarship emanating from contemporary business schools is Lex Donaldson, a professor at the Australian Graduate School of Management, whose contribution to the new journal is entitled "Damned by our own theories: contradictions between theories and management education." In a scathing attack against a number of the most prominent theories in current business research, Donaldson goes beyond branding them as irrelevant to practical management; he concludes them to be actually at odds with it.

In another vein, Dennis A. Gioia of Penn State University and Kevin G. Corley of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, take business schools to task for being obsessed by the "rankings game," the biannual rankings of the schools carried out biannually by Business Week. "The dominating presence and perceived capriciousness and superficiality of the rankings," they write, "has driven business schools toward a focus on image management, oftentimes at the expense of substantive program improvement."

Finally, in an article entitled "Educating Managers Beyond Borders," Henry Mintzberg of McGill University and Jonathan Gosling of Lancaster University describe an alternative -- what they call a "radical revision beyond the current borders of the MBA."

The highly innovative program they describe -- quite possibly the model for the education of top managers in the future -- is called the International Masters Program in Practicing Management.

"Managers cannot be created in a classroom, the way, for example, physicians or accountants are," Mintzberg and Gosling write. "That is why we accept only practicing managers in our classrooms, indeed only ones sent and sponsored by their companies…" Participants stay on their jobs, and, over the course of 16 months, experience five two-week modules in business schools in five very different places -- Bangalore, France, England, Canada, and Japan.

"This kind of management education is not easy," the article concludes. "Tensions abound across borders…Stretch out these tensions and we seem to be walking a set of precarious tightropes. But these are the tensions of everyday managerial life, not of our program. They have to be faced. So we had better see them differently."

The Academy of Management, founded in 1936, is the world's largest organization devoted to research and education in the management field. With more than 12,000 members in 60 countries, it publishes three other journals in addition to the new Academy of Management Learning and Education. They are the Academy of Management Journal, the Academy of Management Review, and the Academy of Management Executive.

Media Coverage:
Associated Press. MBA degrees not worth the effort. (Monday, August 26, 2002).
Business Week. What's an MBA really worth?. (Monday, September 22, 2003).
Financial Times. A split sense of purpose: Professors disageee on the role of business schools. (Wednesday, September 18, 2002).
Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The MBA Boost. (Thursday, March 24, 2011).
Fortune. Why an MBA may not be worth it. (Monday, June 14, 2004).
National Public Radio. Morning Edition. (Wednesday, August 28, 2002).
The Boston Globe. Questioning wisdom, value of business school. (Sunday, September 01, 2002).
The Economist. The $100,000 question: Do you really need that MBA. (Friday, July 26, 2002).
USA Today. Some say MBAs no longer worth extra cash. (Monday, July 22, 2002).

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