A good friend of mine who had set up a very lucrative business school in a traditional university once complained to me: “The university like what I do and they like the money I bring, but they don’t like me.“ Traditional, prestigious universities often have a very strange relationship with their business schools treating them like the illegitimate child who has had a very successful career.
Of the 85 institutions in the world that have existed since the 1500s, 70 of them are said to be universities. Given that business is considered to be a profession born in the 19th Century it is perhaps not surprising that business schools cannot claim the same heritage. In fact, history shows that prestigious universities have resisted rather than encouraged the creation of mercantile pursuits.
Rakesh Khurana (2005) reports that after Charles W. Eilot became President of Harvard in 1869 he:
“ignored repeated calls to establish a school of business….arguing that such a project would be anathema to the university’s educational purpose of teaching students how to live worthy lives.”
And this despite that fact that improvements to professional education was one of the major focuses of his Presidency.
By 1900, it was clear that nearly half of all the Harvard College graduates were heading off to the business world upon graduation. Finally, in 1907, Harvard University relented and created its business school with some 57 participants for the first intake. Wallace B. Donham was named as its founding Dean.
HBS has a beautiful campus, but it is notable that it was set up more than twenty minutes walk from Harvard Square and symbolically “Across the River.” In Cambridge, MA, terms this is as close to being banished to the wilds of Siberia as you can get. Well, you wouldn’t want highbrow philosophical discussions being polluted with ROIs and ROCEs, would you?
Harvard is not the only prestigious university in the world than has very grudgingly created a business school. The world’s oldest university, Bologna, has three Faculties of Economics but no Business School. Having a “Department of Management” would seem to be more than sufficient for university heads there. (And by the way, you are going to have to speak Italian if you want to know what they do because the web page isn’t translated into English. One can only presume that ‘International Management’ is not a major.)
Peking University hiding its business school.
Peking University (Beida) is one of the oldest and most well known universities in the China. Created in 1898 on the outskirts of the capital, it has educated some of the most prominent figures in the country’s history including Mao Zedong. Its management school was created in 1993 but try finding it on the beautiful university campus. All the detailed plans that the university provides make no mention of a lowly management or business school in the midst of this noble literary institution. It is merely referred to as the “Guanghua School.” Any visitor unaware of this will spend a considerable amount of time wandering around looking for it.
Cambridge and Oxford University
The British elite universities are no better. Cambridge University was created in 1209. However, it was not until 1954 that the university yielded to create “Management Studies in the Engineering Department.” Note the guardianship of the engineering department lest those lowly business types get ideas beyond their station. In 1990, showing a remarkable talent in incremental change the central university decided to separate the two and create…an institute. Judge Institute for Management Studies was established after being on its best behaviour with the engineers for 46 years. Finally, in 2005 as Judge Business School was established though even today either more traditional parts of the university still look down their noses at it.
Does all this seem a little slow? Well the record has to go to Oxford which can boast one of the oldest universities in the world and one of the newest business schools. There is evidence to how university teaching in Oxford from 1096. And when did they get around to setting up a business school. 1996, just in time for the university’s 900th birthday!
In this week’s guest post, Peter Lorange, President and owner of the Lorange Institute of Business Zürich and former President of the IMD, Lausanne, asks if innovation in business schools is becoming less and less effective.
Those of us working in higher education at the moment must recognise that some of the targets to which are business schools work are leading to dysfunctional outcomes, for example staff being taken away from front line teaching and student support duties so that they can write articles for obscure academic journals.
This week China will quietly commemorate the anniversary of the death of Mao Zedong. On the 9th September 1976, the founder of the Chinese Communist Party died at the age of 82. During that time, Chinese universities have followed the modernization movement within the country in their goal to become world-class institutions.