If you are watching the Olympic games at the moment, you have probably seen the TV ad by Procter and Gamble which shows a mother looking at her child compete in the Olympics and finishes with the slogan:
“To us, they’re Olympians. But to their moms, they’ll always be kids.”
Parents who will soon be seeing their children leave the family nest for the dangerous world of higher education will fully understand this message. After all those years of worrying and caring, it is tough giving up our precious offspring to the unknown.
For professors though, those same students are NOT children but future managers. Their job is to prepare them for the business world. Time for the parents to let go.
Parent’s Meetings in Business Schools
Last week I was trying to explain to the mother of one of our students why we hadn’t had a parent’s meeting during the year.
“Well…umm….perhaps because the students are in the first year of a Master’s programme and because your son is 22. He isn’t 10.”
OK, so I wasn’t quite as brutal as that but that was the gist.
Fortunately at my own school we don’t get too many of these calls. When we do, the person who is usually most bothered by this type of unwanted attention is the student himself. Often a quiet word to them brings a sigh of exasperation and a promise to deal with the situation.
Sometimes though it is harder for the student.
A few years ago I had agreed to meet a mum terrified of the dangers to her third year undergraduate son who was about to spend a semester in Dublin. (OK, so if you have ever been in an Irish pub you may think that she had a point!) Her son must have been over 2m (6ft 6in) tall with the type of muscular density that made you think that you wouldn’t want to tackle on a rugby pitch. And yet he sat, head bowed for 30 minutes as his mum talked AT me.
Having listened patiently I then began to explain our policy on preparing students for the business world by limiting parental involvement. Frustrated, she blurted out:
“Yes, but I need to know what my baby….”
The student’s face cringed with horror and the mother immediately corrected herself:
“…I mean, my son.”
Too late. The damage was done as for the next two years each time he and I met it was impossible not to think of him as “My baby”. Of course, it was never stated, but his sheepish look said it all.
The problem of parental interference has become so acute in the United States, that they have even coined the term “helicopter parents” who hang metaphorically above the universe and swoop down everytime there is an issue of any sort.
So you pay the tuition fees. So what?
Sooner or later, any discussion with parents will come around to the famous sentence:
Perhaps you do, but so what?
Two years ago I received a letter from an irrate parent demanding preferential treatment for his daughter. The letter began:
“May I remind you that I made a donation to the school last year.”
I checked our records. It was true. His donation amounted to 137 euros. (No, seriously…I am not making this up!) And it wasn’t even his own money. It was through the compulsory learning tax (taxe d’apprentissage) that French businesses are required to pay.
Anyway, the size of the donation was really of no importance. What would that same person have thought if I had said “No” to him but ‘Yes” to another parent who had donated, well, 138 euros. Or 138 000 euros come to that. Whoever pays for the education and however much is donated a student is within his rights to demand that the same rules apply to everyone in his class.
Business schools can be expensive and students deserve to get the best possible service for their investment. But that is just the point.
Bob Bowman coaching Michael Phelps
The service we provide is to prepare them for the difficulties of the world of work i.e. negotiating, being autonomous, making decisions etc. It is impossible to do this while the parents are standing in the way. Bob Bowman certainly had his share of angry words with Michael Phelps during their fifteen year relationship. And the result? Phelps became the most successful Olympian ever. Would this really have been possible with mom and dad Phelps calling every five minutes to question Bowman’s methods? And how often, I wonder, was Phelps given a 20 meter head start just because his parents had made a financial contribution to the running of the swimming pool? Would that have helped Phelps in the long run?
The role and vocation of a business school
Business schools exist to help students to develop the necessary skills to be effective in companies. They can only do this if the students are left in an environment where they can begin testing their own abilities. That means dealing with fellow students, professors and the administrative team without the interference of their parents.
Since the business schools have a vested interest in ensuring that they succeed, this is the perfect place for students to put those skills to the test. The real business world is a lot tougher and they won’t always have such a friendly atmosphere. So the sooner they start practising, the better.
Anyone who has managed knows just how difficult it is to delegate. There is always the feeling that you can do it better yourself. Parenting brings the same type of pain. But good parents, like good managers learn there comes a day when you have to let go.
Related Blog Articles
AAUP blog: “Over the past two decades we have placed the outcomes of higher education under scrutiny. Accrediting agencies make the assessment of learning a key to appraising institutions. We scholars make our voices heard on the matter, and politicians have grown curious about undergraduates.”
James Madison University: “Jeremy writes: JMU is alive and well here in London. I have spotted more than a few JMU hats and bags around town, and JMU’s Jacob Wukie (’09) earned a silver on Saturday. Might have to try and find a ticket for the archery events on Monday and Tuesday to support Jacob!”
International Affairs in Higher Education