Why Harvard And Wharton Are Wrong

BusinessWeek pioneered B-school rankings. In 1988, we launched the first MBA rankings that actually asked the consumers of a B-school education -- students and corporate recruiters -- to evaluate their schools. The startling results produced major changes in the curriculum and teaching practices of many business schools. Now, after 16 years, Harvard Business School and the Wharton School have joined together to try to discourage BusinessWeek from doing its biennial surveys. Citing spurious privacy concerns and cost, their deans say they will no longer provide the e-mail addresses of students and alumni for the magazine's 2004 MBA ranking to be published this fall. This is a bad decision that should be reversed.

At a time when the public demands accountability from its business leaders and institutions, Harvard's and Wharton's attempts to curb the most comprehensive, independent source of student opinion about the quality of their education is shameful. Harvard Dean Kim B. Clark and Wharton Dean Patrick T. Harker are trying to deny people around the world who seek a B-school education the independent information they need to make intelligent decisions.

In the years since it was launched, the BusinessWeek rankings have attracted imitators but none uses our methodology. We offer the only ranking in which students analyze the quality of their school's professors and teaching, education and curriculum, career guidance, and help in getting employment upon graduation. The methodology is transparent and deans throughout the country continuously consult with the magazine on making it better. We take privacy very seriously; private passwords and other precautions meet the nation's toughest privacy standards.

The real proof of the value of the rankings is the immense popularity they have among potential consumers of B-school education. The BusinessWeek Online site, which is largely free, has a wealth of tools for comparing B-schools, as well as forums for prospective students, current MBAs, and alumni to talk together. It is a virtual community that draws tens of thousands of visitors monthly.

Harvard and Wharton are proposing to create an alternative database that business schools themselves would develop as self-serving marketing materials to replace free and open surveys. This cartel-like arrangement would not have any rankings. Student and alumni opinions would not be made available. Imagine the schools' line of reasoning applied to the corporate world. It would essentially preclude independent analysts, the media, and investors from assessing the performance of corporations. This is not a lesson that Harvard and Wharton should want to teach.

In 2002, the last BusinessWeek survey, Harvard Business School ranked No. 3 overall and No. 14 in student satisfaction. Wharton ranked No. 5 and No. 12 in student satisfaction. The Harvard B-school has never ranked No. 1, largely because its own students give it uneven grades. Wharton students, too, have voiced misgivings about aspects of their program.

BusinessWeek intends to go forward with its MBA survey and our results will be as comprehensive as ever. Nearly all of the 100-plus B-schools we survey are fully cooperating. If there is one lesson to be learned in school, it is that the free flow of information is a social, political, and economic good.

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