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  • Rethinking the MBA: Business Education at a Crossroads
  • Stephen L. Mangum and Karen H. Wruck
Rethinking the MBA: Business Education at a Crossroads, by Srikant M. Datar, David A. Garvin, & Patrick G Cullen . Harvard Business Press, 2010. 400 pp. $39.95 (cloth). ISBN : 978-1422131640.

This book opens with a description of the dramatic way in which the forces of demand and supply are impacting the market for MBA education. For current providers, the good news is that worldwide demand is growing. The concurrent bad news is that the number of suppliers of business education is increasing radically, especially outside the United States.

As part of that expansion, the competitive landscape exhibits a growing number of substitutes to traditional two-year residential programs (e.g., one year MBA programs; increased options for part time or online degree offerings, a host of one year specialized business master's programs). In addition, there is consolidation within the full time MBA program niche, uncertainty as to the future of career opportunities in financial services and consulting (two placement mainstays for top MBA programs), and an increasing segment of companies adopting a "hire undergraduates and train them ourselves" approach.

Changes in the competitive environment are, in and of themselves, compelling reasons to "rethink" business education in general and the MBA in particular. But the recent economic crisis provides a further call to action, making it imperative for us to re-examine the way in which we design and deliver business education. This book provides evidence on the history and current state of MBA education and some ideas that can enrich the discussions we are all having about where to go from here.

The authors take an evidence-based approach, examining the curricula of a number of leading MBA programs, and comparing and contrasting them across dimensions of content, pedagogy, architecture, and purpose. Additional insights are garnered from extensive interviews with over 30 business school deans and an equal number of business executives, detailed analysis of trends in graduate business education, and in-depth case studies of six institutions. On this basis alone, the book makes an important contribution to what has become an over-populated, but generally under-evidenced, literature critiquing business education.

Another positive distinction is the fact that these authors dive more deeply into comparison of curricular offerings than is true of prior critiques of MBA education. The greater detail is a refreshing aspect of the book and an important contribution to the knowledge base of those involved in MBA education. [End Page 661] Their exploration uncovers greater diversity in course coverage, pedagogy, and program architectures than demonstrated in the past and questions the oft-stated finding that the core curricula of top business schools are more alike than they are different. A worthwhile companion activity to this exploration would have been to do similarly in examining the elements of MBA programs that fall outside the boundaries of "for credit" courses. While perhaps not of equal importance to course curriculum, these program components are a key part of MBA education.

In tracing the chronology of business schools, the authors do an admirable job of describing the tension that has long existed between two cultures: one built on the rigor of academic disciplines with carefully designed research grounded in the scientific method; the other focused on the "practice" orientation of business organizations and their executive and managerial leadership. This tension is one that has ebbed and flowed over time as business education has actively sought the benefits of rigor while also recognizing the need for relevance—rigor without rigor mortis being the goal.

The book calls for a return to relevance, arguing that the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of "knowing" or the more academic approach to business education. This, in turn, has resulted in an under-emphasis on what the authors term "doing" and "being." By "doing," they mean putting theories and ideas to work in a live business context. By "being," they mean working on the development of students to ensure they are individuals who possess an appropriate set of values and sense of social responsibility. Their call for greater relevance is exemplified by quotes such...


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