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Is It Time to Retrain B-Schools?

Current MBA Dean Allan Cohen and and incoming MBA Dean Raghu Tadepalli respond to the New York Times article about the relationship between MBA programs and the current economic crisis:

Most MBA programs do indeed deserve some of the criticism that the teaching and fundamental premises were too narrowly based on short-term shareholder value. At the same time, what MBA programs have done was only part of what contributed to an era of greed and shortsighted, often unethical behavior. Political behavior emphasized the individual over the community, the media celebrated getting rich, regulations were reduced or poorly enforced and conspicuous consumption was celebrated. Thus a return to more emphasis on ethical, professional behavior will be valuable, but not automatically transform what students bring in terms of beliefs and attitudes, and the more analytical subset of the faculty continue to teach and reinforce.

As the current Graduate Dean of the rather different business school, Babson College, and the incoming dean, we want to note some of the things that have been done at Babson for a long time to create a climate for learning appropriate leadership behavior. Babson’s core curriculum was integrated in 1990, not just a few years ago. We not only talked about the need for integrated thinking and decision-making, we eliminated the separate courses in finance, accounting, marketing and so on, forcing students to think about the multiple consequences of any action. Faculty from different disciplines taught together and collaborated. We incorporated a consulting relationship with a mentor company into the first year of our two-year MBA, so that the complexities of applying concepts were clear from the beginning. We integrated ethical questions with legal and leadership issues to help students think about the multiple consequences of their behavior. We are now in the process of integrating social entrepreneurship into our underlying premise of entrepreneurial thought and action. Entrepreneurial leadership is not a separate subject practiced once a week for an hour; leadership is inherent in everything that the manager does or does not do. It isn’t easy to teach people to be better at it, as opposed to talking about it, but we encourage a great deal of fieldwork so that students have to practice and not just repeat buzz words.

Serious reform of MBA programs will not be easy; faculty control the curriculum and strongly believe in their disciplinary points of view. The almost 20 year tradition of curriculum integration that Babson has undertaken has helped insure that new ideas are not just pasted on old ones. Ultimately, the success of any society depends on developing leaders who can think broadly and responsibly about the organizations they lead, and we are committed to continuous work on that front. At the same time, any business school functions within a broader society which determines which aspects of professional behavior are acceptable and which are not.

Listen to Dean Cohen discuss this further in his podcast.