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Chair's Exchange: Business Schools Have Become Irrelevant

May 2014

By Robert S. Sullivan, Dean, Stanley and Pauline Foster Endowed Chair
Rady School of Management, University of California, San Diego
Chair, AACSB Board of Directors

What a terrible statement. Even worse, what a terrible way for me to begin communicating with our global business school community. This opinion, verbatim, was expressed to me by a dean of another professional school (of course, not business) . . . a very prestigious school at a research campus with global recognition. While the comment caught me off guard, it does bring to light a number of converging dynamics that affect our business school communities. Fortunately, this coming academic year, 2014-2015, AACSB International will provide several venues for assimilating your input—issues on management and leadership education; issues on the role and positioning of business schools. Your active participation will help to address our challenges; ensuring increased—and real—relevancy and impact.

Let me go back to the stinging comment—the irrelevancy of business schools. Upon reflection, I will suggest at least one plausible explanation for this view. It is clear that many campuses worldwide are recognizing that exposure to basic management and leadership skills is valuable for all students, irrespective of their majors. At the very least, it helps with career placement. But it also contributes to a broader understanding and appreciation of the decision processes, organizational dynamics, and community impact. This is not new for some disciplines, such as engineering. However, it is for many others, including the arts, humanities, and social sciences, where students are thirsty for these learning opportunities in addition to their major emphasis.

While basic management and leadership education is increasingly being made available to a broader student community, the more specific areas of innovation and entrepreneurship are recently being touted as central to learning and practice across entire campuses. They often are positioned with creativity, design thinking, and interdisciplinary problem solving. Engineering schools are increasingly laying some claim to these "core" learning areas, sometimes in partnership with business schools; but many times not.

So, with the increasingly pervasive interest across campuses in basic management, leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship, how can anyone conclude that business schools have become irrelevant? Well, are business schools driving and 'owning' campus-wide educational initiatives? Are the courses being designed and taught by business school faculty? In many cases, the answer is no! Basic courses frequently are designed and delivered outside the business school. Lecturers and business practitioners are central to these very practical and engaging curricula; yet business schools often remain in the shadows.

The campus-wide interest in basic business education has been emerging on many campuses for a decade or more. On some campuses, business schools have stood up—they have owned the education solution. Yet, in many other cases, business schools have remained on the sideline—with solutions coming from elsewhere. With the latter, business schools can easily be viewed as irrelevant—certainly, irrelevant to addressing the interests and needs emerging across campuses in basic business and leadership education. One might even conclude that business school faculty are not needed to address the basic business curricula of the broad campus—for the non-business students. Business schools, in a sense, might be viewed as irrelevant.

To be quite honest, I am not sure what drove the comment of business school irrelevancy. I did not have a chance to push for an explanation. And I am also confident that many of you might speculate on other possible reasons behind such statements. All of these thoughts and consideration will be important for our business school community in the years and decades ahead.

As we end the 2013-2014 academic year, it is a great time to reassess our own positioning as leaders of business schools and as part of campus leadership. Are we stepping up to challenges that go beyond the bounds of our individual schools? Do we see new and increasing opportunities to make a difference? Are we becoming a community resource and recognized as such?

What a great time to be at a business school! What a challenging time to address the many intense competing dynamics. Please be on the lookout for future communications and calls to action, as AACSB will be seeking your input—so that relevancy, value, and impact of business schools are never in question.











Robert S. Sullivan
Dean, Stanley and Pauline Foster Endowed Chair, Rady School of Management, University of California, San Diego

Chair, AACSB
Board of Directors