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Indiana professor David Rubinstein makes students work hard in his strategy class, and they're proud of what they accomplish
For a special series, BusinessWeek.com asked business undergrads to tell us about their favorite professors.
You can tell how popular professor David Rubinstein is by his Facebook profile. Rubinstein—or "Rubi," as some undergraduates call him—has 1,445 Facebook friends from Indiana University and message board posts from several of his pals. He's also a member of a handful of IU and Kelley School of Business-specific Facebook groups, including "We're Not Quitters, We're Kelleys!," "Delta Sigma Pi," and "The I-Core Cult" (referring to a series of classes Kelley students are required to take).
If you need further proof that Rubinstein is loved, Kelley School undergraduates voted him their favorite professor this year, according to a 2006 BusinessWeek survey. "He just seems like the type of professor who can relate to anybody and everybody," says Tom Harrison, a senior at IU who took Rubinstein's class last year. "He remembers everybody's name. It's really a testament to his personality." Harrison remembers walking into class on the first day and immediately being asked by Rubinstein if he has a brother named Frank. It turned out that Harrison's brother had been in Rubinstein's class.
TRIAL BY FIRE.
Rubinstein teaches strategy, part of the semester-long Integrated Core at Indiana. Students take four classes: marketing, operations, finance, and strategy, which culminate in a case project at the end of the term. Each year, the professors teaching the four classes write a new case about a product launch. Teams have 10 days and nights to analyze, calculate, and interpret materials, some of which were taught in class and some of which are learned as the students complete the project.
"It is almost like the challenge that Odysseus faced on his journey home in The Odyssey," says Rubinstein. When the students turn in their 120-page papers, it's like nothing you can imagine. "They really are tired and dirty and swollen and unshaven and unkempt—and triumphant," says Rubinstein. "They are proud of their efforts, and their pride is my pride, too."
CARS ARE LIKE RICE.
The Integrated Core semester is full of intense projects and challenging exams. Rubinstein tries to help his students perform well by every means available. Dan Uress, a Kelley alumnus and former student of Rubinstein's, says the professor was available during the pre-exam period until midnight or 1 a.m. and sometimes had pizza for studying undergrads. "He would bend over backward to help his students," says Uress. Uress and his peers say Rubinstein's grading practices are fair.
To prepare students for the major case project during class, Rubinstein has to make learning strategy interesting. That's why, says Rubinstein, he tells stories about Jack Trice, the first black athlete at Iowa State, and fictional detective Hercule Poirot. He also explains things such as why music is like candles or cars are like rice: "Rice is a commodity. To the layman, one grain of rice is like any other grain of rice. If cars are a commodity, then they can't sustain any pricing power. This is the McKinsey idea," he says.
Rubinstein is also involved in his students' lives outside of class. He attends "Dance Marathon" to raise money for Riley's Children's Hospital, the "Little 500" bike race to raise funding for student scholarships, and the "Circle of Life" walk/run to help cancer survivors. "I learn from my students," Rubinstein says.