Saturday, January 03, 2009

The MBA Pact: We Shall Not Speak of What Transpires Here

I dropped off the face of the planet in order to devote more time to my MBA. Turns out I really didn't need to. As I write this I'm meeting with my "group" to put together yet another useless marketing presentation that none of us really care about and that has little bearing on anything I ever anticipate doing. We'll put some shit on a couple of PowerPoint slides and flap our jaws in front of the class and are guarenteed to do just fine1. I don't think the powers that be would let me fail if I asked to; it'd look bad for the program.

From where I sit right now, a year into the program, it looks to me like the entire program is structured to give the appearance of being academically rigorous and useful. The curriculum is full of classes with weighty names, but the actual rigor varies tremendously. For every facially useful and applicable class like accounting or corporate finance there's some fluffy course where we spend most of the time in class talking about Harvard Business Review cases. 95% of the time I don't care about my classmates have to say; if they actually had informed opinions they wouldn't be in an MBA program.

After the fact I went and looked for specific information about how competitive my program is; that's the kind of thing that business schools like to brag about, right? Funny, there's nothing on the program's web site about that. Nothing about number of applications, number of people accepted, average GMAT, etc. If I were the skeptical sort I'd say that this whole thing is one big pay-for-play scam.

It gets better... oh does it get better. We had a class on "International Management"; that sounds great and business-y and globally dynamic, but what did we actually learn? Jack and shit. The prof spent most the class talking about how people in different cultures do things differently (welcome to 1995!). We had to write an essay on "The World is Flat", due on the first day of class, that was worth 50% of our grade in the course. If half of our grade was determined prior to even setting foot in the classroom it sort of undermines the idea that we were actually learning things in class.

There's been other crap like that too. Regular readers of this wankfest know that I'm interested in ethics and metaphysics and all that jazz, so you can imagine that I had a problem with "Ethics for Technology Professionals". The entire class was a boondoggle from start to finish; it might have just as well been called "I like ponies and we should just be nice to everyone". Questions on the final included such gems as

  • I commented (repeatedly) in class that the most important element of ethics is judgment. What prevents managers from making sound moral judgments (accurately distinguishing between what is moral and what is immoral)? What helps managers make sound moral judgments?
  • Social responsibility is an area of concern for every organization. First, discuss your company's activities in this area (or lack thereof) and provide reasons why it is that your company has achieved success and/or failure in their efforts (most companies experience both). Second, using concepts from this course, offer suggestions that would help your company become remarkably more successful in this area.
  • More and more, I hear the phrase "Ethical Leadership." In your opinion, what is Ethical Leadership? Use examples.
I ended up calling bullshit on those on the grounds that they were unnecessarily subjective. The prof acknowledged that they were, but said that the exam wasn't supposed to be just an objective assessment of acquired knowledge.

Yeah, that was fucking annoying.

And don't get me started about the whole "group work" thing. The official line is that we work in groups because that's how the real world works. Anyone with half a brain knows that's complete and utter bullshit. In the real world you don't get thrown into a group with 4 or 5 strangers at random. In a sane company, at least, every group member has specific skills and a designated job to do. More importantly, when someone under-performs you can fire them. On the other hand, when it turns out that one or more of your group members is a dumb as a bag of hammers you have no such recourse. I'm pretty sure that they're big on group work because it a) reduces the number of assignments that professors have to grade and b) keeps the attrition rates down.

So yeah, the entire MBA program has turned out to be a bit of a farce. There's no reward for excellence and no penalty for mediocrity2. And I don't think that's just a problem with the evenings-and-weekends program that I'm doing. I've a friend who just enrolled in the full time program at Yale and she makes it sound like she's going through a drawn out version of what I'm doing.

From where I'm sitting it looks like my MBA is a joke. I'm learning very little, and even less of what I'm learning is immediately applicable. But people are (and will contineu to be) duly impressed because of the mystique which surrounds the letters "M", "B", and "A".

1 One of my teammates said "It's marketing, you don't need any data." just as I was writing that.

2 While we were meeting another teammate made a joke to the effect that regardless of what we put together for this particular assignment we'd still all have MBAs in the end.


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