Whether bearish or bullish about the economy, there is no denying that business and management education are in a state of turmoil. The “new normal” will likely be something we’ve never seen before. A recent story on National Public Radio (NPR) captures this sentiment:
American Business Schools trained many of the people who had their hands on the tiller when the nation’s economic ship ran aground. Now, those in leadership positions at top business schools are asking themselves what degree of responsibility they share.
The schools had critics before the economic crisis cost millions their jobs and their retirement saving. Now, the critics are louder, and the questions they raise are being taken more seriously.1
Anger germinates, even abounds in this current environment, but not all agree about what should be done. In the same NPR story, Jay Light, Dean of the Harvard Business School (HBS), and Stephen Kaplan, Professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, paint contrasting pictures of the current state of affairs in business education.
Kaplan takes a more optimistic view of the status quo, arguing that the reasons for the current crisis are multifaceted and cannot be attributed to MBA education alone. He states, “You look at the business world and the global economy since 1980, and it’s stunning. Productivity growth around the world has been terrific. You know, where did all this come from? There’s a huge success story of the tools of markets and economics that are taught at business schools.”
Light, alternatively, argues that the present crisis should serve as an opportunity for deep introspection and change. In fact, he has commissioned a Harvard faculty team to lead such an effort to ensure that the current moment is appropriately seized.
Wherever you fall in this debate, it’s clear we’ve approached a fork in the road, and the direction we choose will have important implications for the future. Business, with its far-reaching and increasingly interconnected stakeholders, will have difficulty absorbing the highs and lows of un-reigned market forces. Consider the chaos of just the last ten years: the dot.com run-up and bust; Enron and a myriad of other corporate scandals; the housing bubble and sub-prime collapse; and the ensuing credit market meltdowns, just to name just a few.