Curriculum Reform at Harvard Business School

Posted by: Louis Lavelle on January 24, 2011

It’s not every day that that the West Point of Capitalism decides to up and change its curriculum, so it’s news when it does. Last week, with little fanfare, the faculty of Harvard Business School (Harvard Full-Time MBA Profile) voted to make two substantive changes to the way it trains the nation’s business elite. While the changes don’t qualify as a complete overhaul along the lines of those announced recently by Wharton and Haas, they represent a significant change in the MBA experience.

The changes, the first since Nitin Nohria took over as the tenth dean of HBS in July, were made after input from alumni, recruiters, and current students, according to an HBS statement emailed to Bloomberg News. Brian Kenny, an HBS spokesperson, said the changes will take effect next fall, and will serve as a platform for future curriculum innovation. “I would say it’s the beginning,” Kenny said. “It’s a structured way to think about how we can innovate the curriculum. “

According to the statement, the first enhancement to the Harvard curriculum will create a new required first-year course called FIELD, for Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development. “It will focus on developing substantively meaningful small-group learning experiences that are experiential, immersive, and field-based, with
the overall goal of advancing the school’s mission to develop leaders who make
a difference in the world.”

FIELD will be designed and delivered by a faculty teaching group, and it will consist of three modules. The first module will center on leadership and the second on globalization, including a required global immersion experience during the January term. The third module will integrate learning across the year.

The second change approved by faculty allows new flexibility in the second-year elective curriculum. By "modularizing" the calendar, splitting two existing terms into four half-terms, it will allow faculty and students greater flexibility in molding their courses and creating a tailored MBA experience.

Initial reaction to the changes was mixed. The Financial Times published an interview with Nohria today that didn't even mention the changes. Poets & Quants, meanwhile, thought they were a big letdown. In a story today, it said, the changes "don't appear to live up to the dean's earlier promise in an interview with the HBS Alumni Bulletin to pursue 'bold, brave things' that will set the course for the entire field of management education for the next 100 years."

So what's everybody think? HBS says the changes are designed to complement the case method, not replace it. Is this an improvement on something that desperately needed improvement, too little innovation too late, or is this New Coke all over again?

Reader Comments


February 3, 2011 10:18 PM

Harvard should have gotten input from the common investors who've been impacted by the lack of accountability among management and board members. I would have advised Harvard to start by making sure its students understand their role as board members is to manage management. As an investor, I also want board members who understand compensation and incentive plans and how they impact managements' so called ethics!

Raj Thamotheram

January 18, 2012 6:52 PM

Does anyone know what has happened to this reform agenda?

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