Big ideas and self-knowledge can't really be effective add-ons to M.B.A. programs. But who can deny that leaders who hope to be more than "specialists without spirit" need them?Perhaps so. But M.B.A. programs are to aspiring vice-presidents what Schools of Government are to aspiring highway commissioners: networking opportunities interrupted by occasional bouts of Technocratic Conceit and the latest Attempt to Trick People Disguised by Wordnoise.
There's an obvious solution. M.B.A. programs should only accept students who have flourished in excellent and relatively traditional "humanities" majors such as literature, philosophy, or political science. They should not require that their students have taken any business courses at all. That technical training is what the M.B.A. is for.
Yes, I'm being cynical. But if conglomeration had worked, so would the Soviet Union have, and there would be no need of corporate raiders or hedge funds. And Vladimir Putin might be General Secretary rather than the second coming of Tsar Alexander III.
And outside of a few M.B.A. programs in the upper reaches of the U.S. News league tables, it's a bad investment. The ambitious junior executive might get a better return on investment from a membership at the East Bank Club or its equivalents in other cities, and doing a good job of working the weight room. And knowing some economics, and, Mr Lawler notes, getting a proper university education.
Undergraduate business degrees devote too much time to PowerPoint presentations, collaborative projects, and narrowly technical problem solving. They seem to do everything they can to divert the student from thinking about himself or herself as a particular person. They're not about cultivating the souls of leaders. And that lack of cultivation, it's pretty darn clear, can't be remedied "at the M.B.A. level."Indeed. But defenders of the liberal arts have trouble tempering the instrumental with the profound.
There's a simple remedy for the struggle M.B.A. programs have in getting students to think big yet personally and beyond "the bottom line": a rather old-fashioned undergraduate liberal arts education. And recovering the proper relationship between liberal and technical education for emerging leaders is one way among many of thinking clearly again about what undergraduate education is for.