Business School for Dummies?

It may seem obvious, but the accrediting group AACSB is studying whether biz-school research should be relevant to the corporate world — and how to make it so.

Beyond the mildly interesting and the obvious, though, research is “most of the time completely irrelevant,” says Paisley, who himself doesn’t do research, and is on a non-tenure track that involves teaching only.

The split between university-based pragmatists and pure researchers is what has the AACSB treading a minefield. And the diplomats on the task force argue that there is a need for both kinds of research — just more of the kind that serves corporate executives.

“It’s the old issue of rigor versus relevance,” explains Gabriel Hawawini, chaired professor of finance at INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France, and currently serving as visiting professor of finance at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Also a member of the AACSB task force, he says the group’s “feeling was that research should be both rigorous and relevant. It’s finding the right combination there, and moving away from the myth that there must be a tradeoff.”

The rigor, as he sees it, comes mainly from academicians reviewing each others’ work, making sure it meets a high standard. But it is in that peer-review emphasis, and the publishing in academic journals that grows from it, that schools may fail to make sure that more of their research is geared to actual needs of business — the kind of needs that often are exposed during executive education programs that draw on business cases, for example.

So the task force is taking steps to make sure that schools do both kinds of research, while rather delicately trying to suggest that the reason for the study in the first place is to give practical research the major boost it needs. And it hopes to encourage new links between that academic and business communities, where few now exist.

Seven Recommendations

The first of its seven recommendations, for example, says that accreditation guidelines will be developed “to require schools to demonstrate the impact of faculty intellectual contributions on targeted audiences.” That applies to both practical, business-aiding research, for which companies are the target, and the kind of pure research aimed at academics — in cases where academics are in fact the targets of the research.

“The task force believes that there are ways to increase the value and visibility of business school research in general,” says LeClair. “And part of that is to increase the role of practical research,” along with research that has policy implications.

One recent corporate-finance example, cited on page 23 of the 48-page AACSB document, involves the studies that underlay reports illustrating how stock options were being routinely, and improperly, backdated by companies to historically low prices that gave employees “in the money” compensation without the taxation that should go with such pay. That work showed how scholarship “by business school faculty also can and should inform policy,” according to the task force report, which suggested that such an inter-working with policy is too rare. The research, credited to professors at the University of Iowa and New York University, also led to exposure of the stock-option backdating scandal in the Wall Street Journal, and may have laid the ground work for prosecution of cases against companies that acted improperly.

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