B-Schools As Cash Cows

The NYTimes had a terrific article looking at the lack of academic rigor in most business schools (link here).  A quote from J. David Hunger, scholar-in-residence in the management program at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, really caught my attention.

“At the big public universities, the administrations need us to be credible, but I’m not sure that they need us to be very good. “They need us to be cash cows.”

I strongly believe that this is a problem throughout academia.  The focus is on putting butts in seats and not on developing young minds to be successful in their careers.  Sure every institution has the select group of faculty that are effective educators, but with little incentives, recognition, or reward to put in the effort necessary to make this happen.  Meanwhile, majority of faculty simply sleep walk semester-semester with very little managerial control or impetus to improve.  Don’t believe me, how about this sentiment from an unname Radcliffe Senior student:

“A lot of classes I’ve been exposed to, you just go to class and they do the PowerPoint from the book,” he says. “It just seems kind of pointless to go when (a) you’re probably not going to be paying much attention anyway and (b) it would probably be worth more of your time just to sit with your book and read it.”

Is this caliber of education worth the tuition premiums being charged?  Wait it gets better, from the same student:

This is not senioritis, he says: this is the way all four years have been. In a typical day, “I just play sports, maybe go to the gym. Eat. Probably drink a little bit. Just kind of goof around all day.” He says his grade-point average is 3.3.

Of course the article has the traditional defensive posturing from academics.  Universities aren’t charged with job preparation but in teaching young minds how to think.  And Academic freedom gives faculty the ability to focus on what they believe is relevant.  The problem is that for many academics they simply have no reason to do either.  A system that allows faculty to simply read powerpoint slides, slides that were mass produced by textbook publishers with little knowledge of the course,students, or objectives, is broken.  I’d like institutions to measure their programs by more than just the ability to be cash cows.

However, as an academic dean once told me “We only teach about business we don’t have to practice it.”

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