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The Balance between Teaching and Research: Are B-Schools Research Obsessed?

April 2013

By Bob Reid, Executive Vice President and Chief Accreditation Officer, AACSB International

Bloomberg Businessweek recently published an opinion piece by Larry Zicklin, former chair of asset management at Neuberger Berman. Zicklin, now a professor at New York University and lecturer at Wharton and Baruch College's Zicklin School of Business, criticized business schools for their lack of transparency in how tuition is spent and their obsession with research.

I'd like to offer a different perspective and discuss the role that AACSB Accreditation plays in framing the balance between teaching and research at the world's leading business schools. The 2013 Accreditation Standards are based on three themes—Innovation, Impact, and Engagement—each offering a different lens through which to examine business education and the leading business schools today than the one used by Zicklin.

Zicklin asserts that professors are judged 99% on their research and 1% on everything else, saying that research is often obscure and exotic. While there are certainly cases in which this is true, the vast majority of business faculty engages in research that is more practical in focus. In the 2013 standards, AACSB has taken a bold step to move away from counting the number of intellectual contributions, to emphasize on the impact of faculty research. Instead of focusing on esoteric research, the vast majority of research done by AACSB-accredited business school faculty falls into one of three areas: basic or discovery; applied or integrative/application; or teaching and learning research. As part of the review process for accreditation, schools must provide evidence and answer questions about the impact of the research done by faculty. What has happened as a result of the research? How has the research made a difference? What has been the impact of the research on theory, practice or the teaching and learning process? Simply stated—how the faculty research has made a difference.

Zicklin emphasizes that faculty are almost totally focused on research, to the detriment of other activities of the business school, most notably teaching. AACSB Accreditation establishes a framework in which teaching is important, and engagement with the world of professional practice is a critical success factor for any business school. As examples, Standard 10 frames the importance of student-faculty interactions. In any business school, the real "magic" occurs when highly skilled faculty are engaged with high-quality students. Standard 13 is focused on the academic and professional engagement of students. The knowledge and skills learned in the classroom or learning environment come alive and develop deeper meaning when they are connected to the professional world through experiential learning. Experiential learning activities may include field trips, internships, consulting projects, field research, interdisciplinary projects, and extracurricular activities.

The role of excellent teaching is vital in a successful business school. To encourage this focus, AACSB Accreditation includes a standard on teaching effectiveness (Standard 12). Schools are expected to have systems and processes in place ensuring that students receive high-quality instruction. Schools should also provide developmental opportunities for faculty to improve their teaching skills and to prepare them for new delivery modes and pedagogies.

Finally, Standard 15 is focused on faculty qualifications and engagement. Zicklin asserts that faculty are narrowly focused on research. While this may be true in rare cases, the AACSB standards embrace the idea that faculty take on many roles, with research being only one role. The four-cell faculty qualifications model provides schools latitude when making strategic decisions about the types of faculty members to recruit and how to deploy these individuals. Instead of being a one size fits all model, AACSB Accreditation is firmly based on the mission of the school. Through the mission, expected outcomes, and strategies, a school clearly articulates how it differentiates itself and establishes a framework for excellence and continuous improvement within the international community of leading business schools.

Bob Reid
Executive Vice President and Chief Accreditation Officer, AACSB International