the (pathetic) rise of business schools


In an earlier post I talked about the impetus for the creation of business schools, as outlined in Rakesh Khurana’s new book, From Higher Aims to Hired Hands. The first section of the book deals with the early attempts to build business schools designed to create socially-minded managers with a strong professional identity. Not surprisingly, the early business schools found this to be a difficult project.

Successful businessmen, like Andrew Carnegie, funded many of the early b-schools, partly in hopes that doing so would help them would gain more respect among the public. The industrialists of the 19th Century lacked the credibility that entrepreneurs have today. They were often uneducated and viewed as only interested in making a profit, which, back then, was seen as a bad thing. To counter this image, they funded business schools that they hoped would lead to the collective betterment of society. The business school would create the new professional manager was concerned with issues greater than profit-seeking. The ideals socialized in these budding managers would teach them to behave responsibly and ethically, thereby taming capitalism and the corporation.

Getting this dream off the ground was hampered by the lack of a coherent set of shared ethics or professional norms that the new b-schools could inculcate in their students. Business schools lacked trained professional educators that drew on a common knowledge base. Most of their training was based in practical skills and technical knowledge, sometimes as mundane as typewriting. Even the creation of a governing association, the American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business, did little to produce a coherent training or professionalizing curriculum.

On page 197 Khurana describes the pathetic state of the business school during and shortly after the Depression years:

The curriculum at the majority of business schools in the 1940s and 1950s was still best described as an amalgamation of subjects, unified by little but the frayed idea of management as a distinct subject of study. With the exception of a mere handful of schools, business education also continued to be beleaguered by poorly trained faculty who lacked a doctorate or an academic publication record. For that matter, a survey of business school research that was published during the 1950s showed that the era’s research consisted largely of superficial, anecdotal examples or broad generalizations that were rarely subjected to rigorous testing or peer review…Finally, the caliber of students in business schools was far from stellar. Growth in enrollment after the war tended to expand the proportion of students whose interests were primarily or exclusively vocational rather than academic. According to a survey published in the mid-1950s, graduate students in business at the time scored below the average for all graduate and professional students on standardized tests.

By the mid-1950s the business school, as an institution, was about to change dramatically with the decline of AACSB and the rise of the foundations (primarily the Ford Foundation) as the patrons of the business school. The disciplines were on the verge of invading the business school classrooms.

Written by brayden king

October 12, 2007 at 10:15 pm

Posted in books, brayden, leadership

2 Responses

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  1. Great essay. Where’s the rest of it?



    October 13, 2007 at 9:36 pm

  2. Looking forward to your continuation of this thought. Wondering if your going to conclude b-schools have survived in spite of themselves! I can’t say I’ve been much impressed by my experiences with them lately but I keep hoping I’m not witnessing the reality of higher education yet.

    Linda M. Lopeke
    SMARTSTART: Success-to-go for people working@the speed of life!


    Linda M. Lopeke

    October 14, 2007 at 2:17 pm

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