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B-School Ranking Rip-offs

I stumbled across a photo exhibition in Spangler a couple of weeks ago. It was called “This Wild and Precious Life.” You probably saw it – photos of slightly startled looking people who had just been asked what they wanted to do with their lives. I had to ask myself: is it the sole aim of this school to throw its students into the quagmire of doubt? Is it funny to have wibbly messes wandering round campus rather than confident young folk? Do the tourists specifically request pictures of tear-stained students in front of Baker?

The past few weeks have given me food for thought on this topic – firstly because of the emotional deconstructionalism which seems to be at epidemic proportions throughout campus (that and pneumonia) and secondly because of the recently published B-school rankings.

Emotional Deconstruction
The goal of this particular school appears to be the complete deconstruction of every assumption you have based your life around to date, leave you in a floundering mess for a couple of years and then assume that you have the backbone to face those things in life which really matter to you and pursue them. Obviously followers of Nietzsche’s philosophy – “that which does not kill one makes one stronger.” Now, why would anyone want to do that to a group of people?

In order to solve this enigma I resorted to the Five Whys principle as defined by the President of Toyota Georgetown. The basic premise is that if you hit a problem in production you ask “Why?” five times and by the end of the fifth time you are firmly at the root of the issue (sort of like Six Degrees of Separation but with less Will Smith). If we were to try this in the context of the first year of an MBA we might get the following result:

1. You’re feeling unhappy -Why?
2. Because your confidence has taken a beating – Why?
3. Because you’ve gone from being someone who stands out from the crowd to someone who is part of the crowd – Why?
4. Because HBS (bless their cotton socks) wants you to think outside the box as to how to differentiate yourselves from the rest – Why?
5. Because then you stand a better chance of making a difference in the world – Why?
6. Because people who care about what they do tend to do a better job. They are even more likely to enjoy it.

So that’s my guess as to why everyone is feeling fragile – the realization that the cage door has been left open and there’s an opportunity to sneak out to explore the world.

But there is a bigger fragility apparent on campus. It’s the “did I make the right choice in coming here at all” question. Now the blame for that one lies directly at the feet of the B-school ranks recently produced by various publications.

It’s a time of year that schools must either love or hate – did Santa bring us a good B-school ranking or have we been naughty? And then of course once the rankings are out there is all the post morteming to do – duck now or you might get the blame. It makes for a busy few weeks of mudslinging. However, I can understand the sentiment – everyone on this campus has a vested interest in understanding where this school stacks up against the rest. I have however found that it pays to scratch below the surface of most polls and find out exactly what questions were asked and of whom.

After delving for a good ten minutes I found out the following interesting (and presumably statistically proven) methods for assessing MBA schools:

The fickle student poll
Both BusinessWeek and the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) use this type of poll weighting. Basically it asks a whole lot of newly graduated students how they liked their MBA. My question here is: Compared with WHAT? No one in their right mind does more than one MBA so where is the control? (I have assumed that no one out there has done more than one MBA. If you have, please let me know so I can correct this article and then proceed to laugh at you unabashed.)

The knowing who your friends are poll
The Wall Street Journal has a nifty way of scaling – it asks corporate recruiters which school they prefer to employ from. But here’s the rub – the individual schools get to choose which recruiters get consulted. So, on that basis we can safely say that Tuck this year has the best friends.

Their dean however concedes that one misunderstood question by pollsters can cost a school a spot at the top so he oversees the whole process himself – what a lot of time he must have. Harvard came in 9th in this poll, perhaps because our Dean has better things to do with his time.

The cash in hand poll (oh, and a bit of unique research)
This type of poll, which the Financial Times uses, weights its findings predominantly on post-MBA salaries. Harvard does well in this one. But it’s worth noting that you also get a good score if the school has an academic research program (as Harvard does). Those schools with doctoral programs do well. Yay, that must mean that HBS isn’t just reprocessing everyone else’s thoughts on the management world but is actually trying to come up with something novel.

So, all up, each different type of poll produces not only different emphases but also different results. I see two alternatives to this type of system.
1. the poll of polls
2. the tea method

The Poll of Polls
The Economist has just published the “Poll of Polls” where it basically lumps all the polls together and ranks the schools according to the different weightings. This is perhaps a more balanced approach to evaluating MBAs. Harvard came in 3rd place using this method. Make of that what you will.

The Tea Method
This is a little invention of my own. Brew yourself up a nice cup of tea using good quality leaf and have a look at the bottom of the mug – much better than reading your future through the eyes of the media or the eyes of your peers and you get the additional benefit of a hot, relaxing beverage at the end of it all.

October 28, 2002
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