This article was the most-emailed yesterday on the Times website, and essentially asks the question: what has MBA education wrought, and is it time to rethink how it’s done? Specifically, has the focus on bottom-line and profits at many business schools undermined a sense of social responsibility? Put more bluntly: what responsibility do our business schools have for the problems in corporate culture that led to the financial mess?
Now I don’t think it’s fair to blame business schools for the whole financial mess. But at the same time, they were eager to take credit for the success of the economy in good times, and should be willing to shoulder some of the load during the bad.
For me, the question extends further. Ask undergraduates at Northwestern, and they’ll tell you that the Kellogg School of Management–located on prime real estate in the dead center of the Evanston campus–radiates an aura that permeates much of undergraduate life. One in eight NU undergraduates is an economics major, and those students walk the halls of Kellogg for their classes. The sense communicated to undergrads seems to reinforce the notion that college education is meant to be pre-professional, that success involves making money and entering the culture of Wall Street and finance. (One NU staffer I know keeps a collection of letters from students who had been involved in global do-gooding, and who ultimately took jobs in the financial industry.)
One more layer: My employer, Hillel, has emphasized MBAs as the model for Hillel directors. Business principles, including a focus on measurement (how do you quantify a ‘meaningful Jewish experience?’) and an emphasis on the financial bottom-line, have definitely influenced the culture, just as they have at the university.
The questions in all of this are many. But the biggest one is this: Will the university–and by that I mean academe in general–have the courage to seriously evaluate its values, goals, and culture?