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Business schools:
equilibrists on an unravelling rope
Guest editor Professor Rik Maes discusses how business schools can regain relevance for management practice.

case studies in question. This hasn’t prevented even leading management gurus (Mintzberg, Ghoshal, Bennis and O’Toole, and many others) to assail the same business schools more fundamentally and more decisively. They are not only accused of educating future managers in an amoral (and even immoral) way, but equally of being irrelevant and detrimental for real management education at large: management practices simply don’t work according to the mathematical formulas published in Management Science and other so-called top management journals. My basic concern with business schools as they operate today is that they are unable to solve (or even to address) the very fundamental problems organisations (and not only companies) all over the world are facing today. Societal, organisational and individual dynamics are confronting organisations with their own identity and raison d’être, yet business schools continue to operate as if the career of their faculty based on esoteric publication rankings is their main concern. “Instead of measuring themselves in terms of the competence of their graduates, or by how well their faculties understand

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orporate scandals in the US and in Europe caused major business schools to redraw on the spur of the moment their favourite teaching toys, ie the

important drivers of business performance, they measure themselves almost solely by the rigour of their scientific research (…) (They) exist primarily to support the scholar’s interests.” (Bennis and O’Toole, 2005). There is as big a difference between teaching customerorientation and being customer-orientated as there is between reading about bulls and being in the ring, according to an old Spanish proverb. Forewarned is forearmed: weren’t there any warnings against the growing separation between management theory and management practice? Or, still more germane, weren’t there any models for a better-balanced and hence more relevant business school? I bet there were! In 1990, Ernest Boyer published his landmark vision on scholarship. In this highly acclaimed, yet just as disregarded manifesto, he stands up for the reassessment of forgotten values in academic life: “Surely, scholarship means engaging in original research. But the work of the scholar also means stepping back from one’s

investigation, looking for connections, building bridges between theory and practice, and communicating one’s knowledge effectively to students. Specifically, we conclude that the work of the professoriate might be thought of as having four separate, yet overlapping functions. These are: the scholarship of discovery; the

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scholarship of integration; the scholarship of application; and the scholarship of teaching” (Boyer, 1990: 16) Elaborating on this model, Boyer asserts that discovery should not only contribute to human knowledge, but also to the intellectual climate of a university and of society. The scholarship of integration, for its part, is dealing with the interpretation and meaning of discoveries and their contexts; therefore, it is inherently inter-disciplinary. The scholarship of scholarship becomes a common quality of academics and non-academics alike. The advantages of this approach, related to the abovementioned lack of relevance of business schools, are straightforward. Just to mention some with respect to research, as this materialises to be the sitting target in the discussion on business schools: (1) academic researchers are continuously invited to leave their ivory tower and to deal with fundamental business problems of topical interest; (2) practitioners are stimulated to

application deals with the responsible application of the scholar’s knowledge in the outside world; Boyer explicitly notes that application not necessarily follows knowledge, yet that “new intellectual understandings can arise out of the very act of application (…)Theory and practice vitally interact and one renews the other” (ibid., 23). Through the scholarship of teaching, professors not only transmit knowledge, but transform and extend it as well through the interaction with challenging students. For a number of years, the Department of Information Management at the University of Amsterdam has been engaged in an analogous endeavour, although we were at the outset not aware of Boyer’s ideas. All of its educational programmes, ranging from undergraduate programmes in business studies and business

Business schools are unable to address the very fundamental problems organisations all over the world are facing today
engage in research, often in collaboration with academic researchers, and hence to reflect deeply on their practical experiences; research (3) is sterile naturally retrospective, replaced by

quantitative

generative research aimed at giving direction to the fundamental transitions organisations are faced with; (4) mixed learning communities are both the breeding ground and the test ground for joint action research; and (5) through learning-by-sharing and integral scholarship, universities and business start recognising each other again as the interesting and interested partners they always ought to be. Business schools are invited to leave the unravelling rope and to jump in the space of fundamental relevance. But I doubt they will ever have the guts to prefer jumping above falling, paralysed as they are!

information systems to a post-graduate executive programme in information management and an

accompanying continuing education programme, as well as its research programme, are organised according to the “learning-by-sharing” approach (Maes, 2003;

Huizing, Maes and Thijssen, 2005). In this approach, four roles comparable with the scholarship typology of Boyer are discerned: researcher, student, practitioner and teacher. What makes learning-by-sharing unique is that gradually, through the succeeding programmes, these roles are deliberately spread over the different participants: whereas bachelor students are still very much in their student role and their teachers in the teaching role, participants in the continuing education programme, students/practitioners and teachers/researchers alike, are members of a community of reflective co-learners playing interchangeable roles according to the problem under consideration. Through learning-by-sharing, integral

References: Bennis, WG and O’Toole, J (2005). “How Business Schools Lost Their Way”, Harvard Business Review, 83(5): 96-104. Boyer, EL (1990). Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Ghoshal, S (2005). Bad Management Theories are Destroying Good Management Practices. Academy of Management Learning and Education, 4(1): 75-91. Huizing, A, Maes, R and Thijssen, JPT (2005). “Educating Professionals: Leveraging Diversity in a Globalising Education”, to appear in Educational Innovation in Economics and Business XI, Berlin: Springer-Verlag. Maes, R (2003). “On the Alliance of Executive Education and Research in Information Management at the University of Amsterdam”, International Journal of Information Management, 23(3): 249-257. Mintzberg, H (2004). Managers, Not MBAs: A Hard Look at the Soft Practice of Managing and Management Development. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

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