The pedagogy of the privileged

Published on The Economist, Sep 24th 2009.

Business schools have done too little to reform themselves in the light of the credit crunch.

THIS has been a year of sackcloth and ashes for the world’s business schools. Critics have accused them of churning out jargon-spewing economic vandals. Many professors have accepted at least some of the blame for the global catastrophe. Deans have drawn up blueprints for reform.

The result? Precious little. Business schools have introduced a few new courses. Students at Harvard Business School (HBS) have introduced a voluntary pledge “to serve the greater good” among other worthy goals, which about half of this year’s graduates embraced. But for the most part it is business schooling as usual. The giants of management education have laboured mightily to bring forth a molehill …  

… Boosters beware:

The original sin of business schools is boosterism. Professors are always inclined to puff the businesses that provide them, at the very least, with their raw materials and, if they are lucky, with lucrative consultancy work. HBS has produced fawning studies of almost every recent corporate villain from Enron (which was stuffed full of HBS alumni) to the Royal Bank of Scotland. A taste for cheerleading has been reinforced by the rise of a multi-million-dollar management-theory industry. Professors with dollar signs in their eyes are always announcing the birth of the latest revolutionary management technique or the discovery of the hottest new “supercorp”.

Business schools need to make more room for people who are willing to bite the hands that feed them: to prick business bubbles, expose management fads and generally rough up the most feted managers. Kings once employed jesters to bring them down to earth. It’s time for business schools to do likewise. (full text).

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