What Good Are Business Schools Anyway?

In defense of the ‘Mediocre But Arrogant’

Alex P. Miller


Photo: RapidEye/iStock via Getty

Business schools are easy to hate. Students shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars to become cogs in the capitalist machine of corporate America, and for the increasingly dubious value of an “MBA”. So it’s no surprise that, last month, The Guardian published an excerpt from a new book titled, Shut Down the Business School: What’s Wrong with Management Education.The author, Martin Parker (a business school professor himself) cites criticism of how business schools operate and their impact on students:

Business schools have huge influence, yet they are also widely regarded to be intellectually fraudulent places, fostering a culture of short-termism and greed. (There is a whole genre of jokes about what MBA — Master of Business Administration — really stands for: “Mediocre But Arrogant”, “Management by Accident”, “More Bad Advice”, “Master Bullshit Artist” and so on.) Critics of business schools come in many shapes and sizes: employers complain that graduates lack practical skills, conservative voices scorn the arriviste MBA, Europeans moan about Americanisation, radicals wail about the concentration of power in the hands of the running dogs of capital. Since 2008, many commentators have also suggested that business schools were complicit in producing the crash.

In light of general angst surrounding economic stagnation in Western capitalist countries and our increasing concern about the value of higher education, the criticisms in Parker’s piece are worth taking seriously. At the same time, this book is a great excuse to consider why we even have business schools in the first place — and to understand their value to us today.

Parker’s essay includes several compelling critiques that business school students and teachers should consider. Among them, he calls out “corporate social responsibility” programs as mere veneers of do-gooderism that do nothing more than justify a collective form of moral licensing. (A criticism which he is far from alone in leveling.) He also highlights the “hidden curriculum” in business schools — the way students implicitly learn what matters, who matters, and which topics (and people) can be ignored. All institutions should consider the ways in which implicit biases and messages are…