Resting the case

Real Carpio So

Real Carpio So

IN 2011, Forbes’ ranking of the top 50 business schools revealed that “investment in an MBA degree—including tuition and forgone salary—is typically paid back in about 3+ years.” Based on data collected within the 2008-2010 period of the Great Recession, the prospects remained attractive despite salary cuts for finance and other career choices of MBA degree holders.

Amidst the popularity and success of business schools and education, there are “substantial questions about the relevance of their content.”

Moreover, the effects on both careers of the graduates and on management practice remain uncertain. This is particularly magnified when the public has mainly perceived management professionals as the architects of recent financial crises.

This year, a paper published by the Journal of Business Ethics argues that the MBA, probably the most successful academic program of the last 50 years, negatively affects the theory and practice of management with regards to ethics. According to the argument, managers’ seeming inability and unwillingness to deal with ethics is an inevitability given the philosophy, rationale and content of current MBA programs. This echoes the assertion of Leavitt in 1989 that the MBA program has distorted those subjected to it into “critters with lopsided brains, icy hearts, and shrunken souls.”

A typical MBA program is expected to be completed in 2-3 years. Perhaps due to this constraint, students are taught the tools and their applications. Seldom are they told of the tools’ theoretical backgrounds or warned of their implications, consequences and inherent problems. And since these tools need to be embraced in a short time, the students are not pragmatically motivated to muse about the inputs or workings of the underlying models.

After a few lectures at the beginning of each course, students are compelled to demonstrate application of “prescriptive” knowledge through case studies, simulations and business games. This may often result in the student being uncritical, particularly about the ethics involved in the used of the tools and techniques.

Contrary to its objective, the case method may not necessarily “bring a chunk of reality into the classroom”. Rather, it compels students toward accepting the preferred solution based on a framework of choice. Moreover, cases may have been possibly written and designed with certain solutions in mind. Pushing students toward the “right” answer may discourage students to think for themselves. Renowned business thinker Henry Mintzberg expressed his frustration over the confusion of his students after being presented with the complex reality of business. “All my students wanted was a simple business case with one predetermined solution,” he laments.

Recently, Harvard Business School, the progenitor of the case method, has attempted to deviate from the method. Faculty members are tasked to participate in extremely work-intensive projects.

Students work and collaborate in new environments that encourage reflectivity and teamwork; after spending tutored days in small groups in an emerging market, they are subsequently assigned to work on a real project for an international company. Although not totally removed, the case studies are now taught by teams to allow multiple and differing perspectives.

Could this be the “right” answer?

Real Carpio So lectures on strategic management, organizational behavior and management of organizations at the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. He is also an entrepreneur and a management consultant. He coaches selected clients on strategic planning and marketing. He welcomes comments at . The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.


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