Last July, the University of California at Berkeley tapped five-term Silicon Valley congressman and former Stanford University law professor Tom Campbell to lead its Haas School of Business. From this month's Hot Seat, Campbell speaks out on teaching ethics, building a top-ranked institution, and making a business-school education relevant.
Can you teach ethics?
If people are dishonest, a course won't make them honest. It is possible to sensitize students to the risks that exist so that they won't be surprised when an issue presents itself. We think the best way is for professors to describe instances of ethical challenges in their own careers.
Are business schools responsible for their alumni?
The reputation of a school is on the line with the conduct of its alumni — both plus and minus. I'm proud of two of our MBAs who started a program to advise the creation of a new college in Ghana, for instance. But if alumni behave poorly, you can't ignore it. People will ask, What did — and didn't — you learn?
What is the value of an MBA today?
Whether an MBA provides value is a bigger question today than it has been at any time since World War II. Is creating wealth a means for advancing generous or selfish instincts? We're asking questions like this for obvious reasons: an economic downturn and a huge number of well-publicized corporate scandals. My answer is that at a time like this, the flexibility that comes from an MBA is paramount.
Are there reasons to get an MBA that are "right" or "wrong"?
There are a hundred right reasons. If you figure, "This is the time to get my MBA, and I'll go back to the economy when it's rip-roaring again" — that's good enough for me. My hope is that by the time they're done, students see value in what they intend to do — value both for themselves and in a broader sense.
What does the Haas "brand" stand for?
Quality. I'm not aiming for a niche. We do have a strong niche in technology, in entrepreneurship, and in international. But I'm consciously avoiding saying, "The Haas brand name means . . ." and then filling in a specialty.
What's your take on business-school rankings?
Anyone who tells you that they ignore them isn't telling the complete truth. A high ranking improves our graduates' employment chances. If you're from a top-5 school, you've got a much better chance at a job, or for promotion within a job, than if you're from a top-10 school. Quality is our goal, but the ranking is the megaphone.
What keeps you up at night?
Funding. If we're going to grow — and we must grow — then we need to have an endowment for that.