HBS Blocks Media Access to Students

Harvard Business School (HBS) will not give students’ e-mail addresses to BusinessWeek, the magazine that publishes a popular ranking of the nation’s business schools based in part on student satisfaction surveys.

HBS spokesperson David R. Lampe said the school has a long-standing policy of “not facilitating access to students and others on behalf of any commercial interest.”

While HBS has cooperated with BusinessWeek since the survey’s launch in 1988, Lampe said the school has now decided “that the process should be the same for the media, particularly since rankings have become a significant area of growth for an increasing number of publications.”

Wharton, the University of Pennsylvania’s business school, also announced this month that it would not give BusinessWeek access to its students for the survey, though Lampe said HBS and Wharton reached their decisions independently.

Harvard said it considers its decision a stance against the national preoccupation with magazine rankings.

But BusinessWeek suggested that HBS—which has fallen in the student satisfaction segment of the survey in recent years—is driven by less-principled motives.

RANKING REBELLION

“In some ways, we, along with our peer institutions, have allowed rankings to define us, not only to the outside world, but to ourselves as well,” wrote Wharton Dean Patrick T. Harker in a letter to students last week. “It is time to measure our institution’s achievements of every program and by the accomplishments of our students, faculty, staff and alumni.”

Lampe said that the HBS admissions office is less concerned with its position in a “journalistic poll” than with finding students who will thrive at the school.

“There is a rich diversity of students seeking to pursue an MBA, and a wide range of schools with different strengths and approaches to management education,” he said. “[The rankings] make it seem as though all of the students are the same and all of the schools are the same.”

But Jennifer M. Merritt, an editor at BusinessWeek, said that unlike rankings from other publications such as U.S. News & World Report, which place a heavy focus on test scores and admissions data, “our survey is more of a customer satisfaction survey,” incorporating the opinions of students, alumni and recruiters.

“When you’re making a $150,000 decision,” Merrit said, calculating the total cost of earning an MBA, “you need a broad array of information. Numbers don’t tell the whole story.”

She said Harvard and Wharton “are short-selling prospective students” when the schools claim applicants misuse rankings.

Applicants to MBA programs “are not naive or stupid enough to look at [rankings] in a vacuum,” Merritt said.

A QUESTION OF ACCOUNTABILITY

While defending the validity of her publication’s ranking system, Merritt questioned the schools’ motives for scaling back cooperation with BusinessWeek.