The business school is in danger... but not for the reasons you might guess

23 May 2023

John Quelch,former Dean at Miami Herbert Business School, reflects on the challenge of nurturing MBA talent onto a teaching career at business schools. 


If I said to you that your son or daughter should come to my medical school, but that only 15% of the people who will be teaching are trained doctors, what would you say? I doubt it would be positive.

And yet business schools around the world teach tens of thousands of MBAs using faculty who have no MBA degree – instead using a second-tier of faculty made up of ‘adjunct’ or ‘practical’ instructors who do the job tenured faculty should be passionate about doing.
In my opinion, this is a strategic weakness in business school education that cannot be underestimated.

Part of the problem is that a significant proportion of qualified faculty do everything they can to avoid teaching the basic courses such as marketing, finance and operations that are the building blocks of any MBA programme. They only want to teach specialty courses that focus on their specific research area.

Another element is that over the last 20-30 years many statisticians have discovered that they can make more money as a professor in the business school than they can in the statistics department. The same is true of professors in Economics and Psychology.

Now let me first say that the arrival of these people in business schools is a positive thing – but only if they are willing to embrace the practice of business as the driver of their research and their professional life. In many cases, that is not so.

Ultimately, the inability of business schools to attract MBA students into a teaching career is an industry-wide failure. You might say that young people don’t take MBAs to then go on to a career in academia – they are lured by the bright lights and high salaries available in banking and consulting. To an extent this is true, but it doesn’t mean that schools shouldn’t try to recruit the bright business graduates that are already within their grasp.

In the past, Harvard Business School ran a programme that identified top talent among those who were graduating with MBAs, Baker Scholars. Those individuals were invited to become research assistants to a leading professor for a year upon graduation. Many of those students then took a doctorate at Harvard Business School and went on to have fantastic research and teaching careers. It's obviously a challenge to lure the best away from the conventional MBA trajectory, but schools must make students aware of the long-term compensations – monetary and otherwise – that are available in business academia.

The business school academy as a whole has done a very poor job of marketing itself in this way and, given the increasing pressures on business schools globally. If we don’t start to do a better job it could be the beginning of the end of traditional business education as we know it.

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