Symposium Focuses on Yale MBA Curriculum
Administrators and deans of business schools from around the world came to SOM in late February for a symposium on the Yale Management Integrated Curriculum. Over two days, SOM faculty walked the visitors from India, China, Brazil, Singapore, Mexico, Canada, and other nations through every aspect of the new curriculum. “We believe the curriculum the faculty at SOM developed is quite extraordinary in advancing business education,” said Linda Lorimer, vice president and secretary of Yale, in her welcome address.
Over six in-depth sessions, the SOM faculty explained the eight Organizational Perspectives that form the heart of the core curriculum; the key elements that comprise a “Yale SOM Case”; the Leadership Development Program and International Experience; and the Integrated Leadership Perspective, which brings together all the elements of the core curriculum at the end of the first year. Dean Joel Podolny explained to the assembled business school leaders on the first day that the new curriculum sprang from a long-standing desire within SOM to make business education more relevant and dynamic. The traditional MBA, he said, owes its form to innovations dating back to the 1950s, when the business world was broken down by distinct functional disciplines that rarely blended. “What happened sometime in the 1970s and 1980s was that, as globalization increased, corporations became flatter and broader, and there were new demands on managers to work across functions,” said Podolny. “The problem was management education didn’t adjust to the new reality."
As was clear from the ensuing discussions, this has become a truly global issue. Jitendra Singh of the Nanyang Business School in Singapore, and a former professor at the Wharton School, noted that the value of the MBA itself has come under question in recent years. “There’s some good evidence that it’s not clear whether the MBA degree adds a lot of value beyond it being a signaling device,” he said. “The value of content must be reconsidered. Curriculum reform is an excellent way to think about what value we’re actually creating.”
Podolny explained to the assembled deans that this emerging consensus coincided with a drive among SOM faculty to make the school’s curriculum more relevant to modern business. In addition to creating an integrated curriculum that emphasized a multidiscipline approach to problem solving, there is a major push to graduate leaders who will not just be successful in the global economy, but will help shape it. “We could just give them the skills to go out and play the game the way everyone is playing it,” he said. “Instead we aim to imbue them with the aspirations to go out and serve society and be leaders. Rather than just relying on the culture of the school to foster leaders, we’ve designed the curriculum around this.”
Throughout the symposium, the visiting business school administrators asked pointed, sometimes tough, questions. “How do you answer skeptics who say your way dilutes the absorption of hard skills?” asked Carla Sayegh ’03 of the American University of Beirut. “I get that quite a lot,” Podolny replied. He explained how the school tested the final class to take the traditional curriculum and the first class to take the new curriculum to judge whether their skills were any different. “There was no statistical difference on the hard skills,” he said. “We find that if you teach in context, which is crucial to the new curriculum, students retain more knowledge.”
As the symposium closed, Podolny suggested to the visitors that the conversation continue, maybe at further meetings or in a virtual forum. Singh strongly endorsed the idea. “There’s no doubt business curricula need to be changed,” he said. “With dialogue among the different parties around the world, we might just see an emerging curriculum that could influence business schools worldwide.”