Thursday, July 28, 2011

On Campus: No Summer Slowdown

Virginia-Darden Dean Bruner
Just weeks ago, members of the MBA Class of 2011 dispersed all over the country--first to take well-deserved breaks and vacations, second to prepare to move to big cities or other outposts to start new positions. Business schools get a short respite, a chance to pause after a bustling school year.

Afterward summer activity picks up again at most schools.  Many have summer semesters and course offerings. Most are gearing up to welcome the parade of bright, confident faces who will make up the Class of 2013. (Some have representatives who have just returned from the Consortium's Orientation Program in Minneapolis.) At some schools, orientation starts in a few days. At most, deans will inevitably proclaim the Class of 2013 as its best, most ambitious, most talented, most diverse and most interesting.

The pulse of business discussion, academic research, and the continual revamping of b-school curriculum is as vigorous as ever. Business schools, including the Consortium 17, don't lose a beat in their efforts to remain as relevant as ever.

In recent days, Virginia-Darden's Dean Rob Bruner shared his views of the tension and stalemate that has engulfed Washington. The debt-ceiling fracas, he says, will make a fascinating case study on business negotiation. The typical business setting is about negotiations, especially in finance, where deals are proposed, discussed and struck, and where prices, fees, terms and conditions are debated. Dean Bruner says, "To aficionados of bargaining, watching (the Democrats and Republicans in Congress go head to head throughout July) is high entertainment"--even if it's not amusing to the rest of the country.

In his blog (See , he highlights primary discussions between two principals, but also the "hidden discussions" among the principals within their circles--the discussions that take place out of view. Tactically, negotiators should investigate those "hidden discussions."

He writes about "brinksmanship," the timeline point where neither side moves toward compromise and a deadline is looming.  He doesn't project how the Congressional stalemate will turn out, but he challenges professors to use the current imbroglio as a teaching point in classes in negotiation and policy. And perhaps even ethics.

Business schools still favor the case method of study for some courses.  With new technology (iPads, tablets, notebooks and laptops), do professors still hand out or require students to purchase the volumes of paper cases for students to review, analyze and discuss in class? Yes, many do. New technology is spurring schools to go the electronic route, especially schools that have thousands of cases on file.  NYU-Stern has tried to migrate to the iPad and other tablets, while Virginia-Darden is experimenting with the Kindle. 

The transition is not as easy as planned, even for b-school students who don't know a world without personal computers and cell phones.  Some students say using iPads, Kindles or other tablets for case study in class makes it difficult to keep up, turn pages, or make notes. Improvements will come inevitably.

At Indiana-Kelley, Consortium alumna Joy Somerset was featured this spring on its school site as an example of a graduate who achieved several objectives in finding the right job. (See http://www.kelley.idu.ed/.) While a Consortium student at Kelley, Somerset approached career coaches to help her decide what she would do after getting the MBA. A coach reaffirmed her interests in brand management, but observed she wanted to do something "altruistic," or "bring joy to others."

The advice and coaching helped lead her to an internship and eventual full-time offer at Consortium sponsor Eli Lily in brand management in a special role where she works with doctors and cancer patients.

North Carolina-Kenan this month launched its new MBA-online program, called MBA@UNC. Some approached this with apprehension, thinking it might not have the rigor, prestige and attraction of its full-time program. Will it offer the same credential, some asked?

The program, as it has rolled out, will prove to be anything but MBA-lite.  In its new class, many of the 19 new students have doctorates and law degrees. They will meet for class and have case-group discussions online. Students will be converge on campus at least twice for "immersion weekends." 

Many wonder how students will engage in partnerships in projects, in exchanges of ideas, or teamwork activities online. Students, however, will not be anonymous during classes and case groups.  At all times, when they log on, their faces will be on the screen, and they will be expected to participate and contribute in the same way in a classroom. Professors and case-group leaders will know who is not in class or who is not attentive or adding to the discussion.

UCLA-Anderson admissions director Rob Weiler told Businessweek ( this summer that once again Anderson's full-time MBA program is gearing up for one of its best classes ever, a class that includes Consortium students. "Anderson students are confident, but not arrogant or cocky," he said."  "They tend to play well with others. They tend to be people who dive in." They don't sit on sidelines.

From about 2,500 applications, Anderson will welcome a class of 360, including about 30% minorities and 30% with an expressed interest in finance.

While full-time students are away, Yale's School of Management Shiller participated in the program.

Michigan-Ross welcomed its new dean, Alison Davis-Blake, who started her new job July 1.  She spent 15 years of her career at Consortium school Texas-McCombs and says her objective at Michigan will be to focus on entrepreneurship, innovation and globalization.

Meanwhile, with market volatility, debt struggles among sovereigns, and a financial system still trying to right itself three years after the demise of Lehman, there is much to research and discuss on campus. B-schools have been involved in that and much more, including such topics as the phenomenon that is Groupon, the fragility of the Murdoch media empire, and the anticipation of what could possibly be the next "black swan" event.

Tracy Williams

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