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Harvard and Wharton Deans Try to Undermine MBA Rankings

These two top business schools will no longer provide BusinessWeek the opportunity to survey their graduating classes. Why? The deans basically say that rankings are crass and misleading. The real story, however, is quite different. Just think sour grapes.

These two top business schools will no longer provide BusinessWeek the opportunity to survey their graduating classes. Why? The deans basically say that rankings are crass and misleading.

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The real story, however, is quite different.

Just think sour grapes.

It troubles Harvard that the school has never come first in BusinessWeek‘s ranking of the best business schools. Since 1988, when BW launched its MBA rankings, Harvard has always been an also-ran. There are important reasons for this: The school isn’t very good at service to its students. Never has been. Never will. Too much academic arrogance to even think it should treat students as discerning customers of an education. MBA recruiters, moreover, often view students from other schools more favorably because they demand less money and often work better with colleagues.

By convincing Wharton to join it in a boycott, Harvard is really trying to protect its own reputation and image. Wharton, which has often lost out to Northwestern as the No. 1 school, doesn’t like playing second fiddle, either.

The bottom line: Both schools are effectively silencing their students by preventing the media from gaining access to them through a survey instrument. Censorship isn’t new at Harvard. Just ask any of the recent editors of the Harbus, the MBA student newspaper. So what you’re seeing here is just another attempt to muzzle graduating MBAs who may have some negative things to say about their MBA experience.

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The official line? Here’s what Wharton Dean Patrick Harker had to say about the decision:

The Wharton School, after very careful consideration, has decided that we will not be distributing our student or alumni e-mail lists for surveys from
commercial enterprises in the future, including the upcoming MBA BusinessWeek survey. The Board of Overseers endorsed this course of action at its recent meeting in San Francisco.

Harvard Business School will announce today that it has made the same decision.

REASONING

Currently, there are many external surveys conducted by commercial publications that rank business schools — more than a dozen annually, in fact. This plethora of rankings, and the wide variety of results they produce, yields little useful data for the schools in shaping their strategic agenda. There is also a widely growing consensus, not only among business schools, but also among colleges and universities, that rankings can be misleading to consumers. Many in the academic community have questioned the methodologies employed in some rankings, as well as the fact that some publications change methodologies from year to year, leading to speculation that some rankings are driven more by editorial agendas than by objective data. We share these concerns, as do our Harvard Business School counterparts.

With regard to collecting useful data to shape our strategic direction, we conduct annual stakeholder surveys of our students, and are about to launch a similar type of annual stakeholder survey of our alumni network of nearly 80,000 graduates. The multiple requests for survey data for outside rankings not only diminish the return rate of the surveys conducted by the publications, but also reduce the response rate on the more critical internal stakeholder surveys. It is critical that the return rates on our internal stakeholder surveys are high to reflect the broadest possible range of views from our students and graduates.

A final reason for not providing e-mail addresses for this purpose is our growing concern for the privacy of our alumni and students, and preventing the possible
misuse of our e-mail lists.

ALTERNATIVE SOURCES OF USEFUL DATA

We recognize that applicants need information from which to compare business schools so that they can make the best choice about which program is right for
them. Recruiters, as well, must have thorough information about each school’s programs to help determine whether students are the right fit for their companies. We believe the external rankings fall far short of supplying the type of objective comparative material from which prospective students or recruiters
can make the most informed choices.

Wharton, Harvard and many other business schools are actively working with the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) to develop a service that
will provide objective, comparative and audited data to prospective students, recruiters and the media. The project’s primary goal is to enable individuals to
examine and analyze information of interest to them personally, from which they can draw their own conclusions.

In addition, there are many opportunities for students and alumni to share their experiences at their schools — and for potential applicants to ask questions of
specific interest. Discussion boards, such as our own student2student discussion board, are open and unfiltered. These resources are profoundly helpful in enabling applicants to make the right decision regarding where they would most like to study and which school will help them achieve their professional goals.

DEFINING OURSELVES AND OUR BRAND

In some ways, we, along with our peer institutions, have allowed rankings to define us, not only to the outside world, but to ourselves as well. It is time to measure our institution’s excellence, not from rankings, but by the achievements of every program and by the accomplishments of our students, faculty, staff and alumni.

It is our most fervent hope that we can move forward secure in the knowledge that we have reached an extraordinarily high level of excellence and will continue to lead business education in the years ahead. We will project this image into the world, defining our brand by the true quality of our community.

Patrick T. Harker
Dean
The Wharton School
The University of Pennsylvania

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