Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Business schools, a history

As someone who's spent some time arguing that journalism isn't a profession, I'm intrigued to run across a book that apparently makes a similar argument about management. Writing in Teachers College Record, James O'Toole of the University of Denver reviews Rakesh Khurana's From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession. Here's O'Toole's lead:
When prominent doctors, lawyers, and journalists are caught betraying the ethics of their respective professions, it is their peers in the medical, legal, and media communities who typically are the first to condemn their behavior. In sharp contrast, the collective silence of American business leaders was deafening during the Enron, Arthur Andersen, WorldCom, Tyco and other turn-of-the-millennium corporate scandals. Nary a CEO spoke out publicly against the illegal and unethical practices of the likes of Messrs. Lay, Kozlowski, et al. Instead, as Federal Express’s CEO Fred Smith recently admitted to BusinessWeek, he and his fellow executives decided 'to lay low' until the storm blew over.

Dang! I may have to add this institutional history of business schools (of all things!) to my reading list.


prb said...

Lawyers and doctors publicly criticizing their peers for front-page-worthy unethical behavior? As in, the AMA and the ABA? Heh! On what plane of reality is that occurring, and how can I get there?

And if we're going to say that bad behavior by CEOs discredits business schools in some way, shouldn't such a calculation also consider the ethical/professional behavior of the 99.8% of MBAs who are not CEOs?

Michael said...

Lawyers, doctors, and journalists criticize their unethical peers because the ultimate goals of all three professions (promoting the rule of law, preserving health, and distributing information to the public) demand it. Unethical doctors, lawyers, or journalists are simply bad at what they do. On the other hand, the ultimate goal of an MBA is to create wealth for the company, so unethical behavior is something good (for the MBA, not for society at large). So why would other MBA's censure the unethical one?