A university, by definition, knows no limits. Of course, having such a broad
portfolio necessarily means conflicts over academic boundaries—each department
believes it is closer to grasping the entire universe than all the others.
Some see the origins of all business, as well as all politics, in law. These
people, not surprisingly, tend to be in the law school.
Cardinal Newman saw theology as the centerpiece of the academy. You
often find likeminded people in the Union and Jewish Theological Seminaries.
Some believe their department actually has a theory of everything. You
can find them in the physics department (or, as some might think, in the
But only in the business school will you find people who are so confident
they believe they can actually manage everything.
Hubris is a not-unnatural condition of academics. At the very least, I can
humbly say I was deeply honored to be asked to serve as dean of one of the
nation s top business schools, one with an MBA program that ranks among the
best in the world.
Many leaders in finance, industry, and the non-profit sector are MBAs—
including Columbia MBAs. The MBA is even showing up in the bios of our
national leaders, from Columbia s own U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, to a
certain Harvard MBA in the White House for whom I recently worked.
As an academic economist studying financial markets and the organization
of industry, I was excited to be given the opportunity to serve as a business school
dean. It came, then, somewhat as a surprise to me that the first challenge of my
new job would be to defend the value of the university-based business school, the
MBA, and, at times, the role of business itself in society.
Who would have thought that the ‘business school press corps was as
tough as the Washington Press corps?
And yet the criticisms are there. A recent
piece asked: “Is
the MBA Overrated?” Now in business circles, that is shocking—somewhat akin
L Osservatore Romano
asking: Do we still need a pope?
found that only 146 of the 500 highest-paid executives at
very large companies had MBAs. A 2002 Stanford study reported that: “What
data there are suggest that business schools are not very effective: Neither
possessing an MBA degree nor grades earned in courses correlate with career
success . . .” And the quote continues: “And, there is little evidence that business
school research is influential on management practice, calling into question the
professional relevance of management scholarship.”
An even tougher take on business schools came from a
article by Warren Bennis and James O Toole saying that “MBA programs
face intense criticism for failing to impart useful skills, failing to prepare leaders,