…from the folks who gave us W

Two long articles in the NYT about the Harvard Business School’s attempt to be less of a misogynistic hell for women , and the curdled elitism that seems to have enveloped the place recently , seriously tickled not only my social justice gland but also my barf reflex.  If the reporting is anything close to fair, it presents a culture so deeply sick, self-absorbed, and malign that the place’s non-profit status needs to be reviewed.  Do we really want federal tax dollars channelled to actively destroying social capital?
What a uniformly awful bunch of people these students are, and proudly see each other as!  What does the admissions committee think it’s doing, admitting the, idle, wastrel scions of the richest people in the most unequal societies of the world so they can pile up even bigger fortunes – is HBS now teaching that the purpose of enterprise is to make Gini coefficients bigger?  Are they trying to beat the alumni fail record set by George W. Bush – is there an even worse president partying there as we speak, slouching towards someone’s plutocrat yacht party to be unleashed on us?
Part of the problem, I think, is that their business model is a dysfunctional (for everyone but them) treadmill.  As all schools try to do, they convince their students to believe, as alums, that  their positional $ucce$$, the fundamental indicator of m€rit, is due to HBS, and the alums both accumulate a lot of wealth (distinctively compared to other professional schools, even law schools) and like to give some back.  At the same time, their production process is very cheap (no wet labs! big classes!) despite the expensive profs, and a very large fraction of students (those spoiled rich scions) don’t care how much tuition they pay. As a result  they accumulate money they simply have no idea what to do with, leading to truly wretched excesses: faculty offices that are suites with real wood paneling, a faculty dining room with a buffet an upscale restaurant would be proud to lay out, subsidized to McDonald prices, and a private gymnasium, for Pete’s sake. I suppose the latter provides those specialized exercises appropriate to the very rich (cranking yacht winches, maybe, or riding a mechanical dressage horse – who knows?), suitably obsequious trainers and towel-bearers, and secure isolation from the kind of coarse hoi polloi you have to encounter in all the rest of Harvard’s athletic facilities.
The HBS endowment is about $2 billion: how much would be enough so they can start using it for something besides transferring everyone’s wealth into a financial sector populated with unspeakably selfish, shallow, jerks?

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

16 thoughts on “…from the folks who gave us W”

  1. HBS is an odd institution. One way of looking at it is that it consists of a fairly normal business school (comparable in most respects to the elite business schools at Penn, Stanford, Chicago, etc.) in which most of the students are relatively driven type-A academic achievers from middle and upper middle class backgrounds, grafted onto a much smaller professional finishing school for the sons of the global wealthy. The latter group needs the credential of a Harvard MBA to “credibly” take over running a large segment of their family’s commercial empire at a young age but is relatively uninterested in getting an education per se. The former group is at least partly motivated by the need to learn something to advance their career.

    The second of the NYT articles referenced is mostly about this phenomenon. Which is to say – it is both very real and also not indicative of the lives of most HBS students, who are certainly not struggling but also not independently wealthy.

    Hard to tell on the first article. I discussed it with a woman I know who went to HBS in the last few years and she indicated that most of it was exaggerated beyond the point of credibility. The quote from a student suggesting that HBS was more difficult/intimidating/misogynistic than a Wall Street trading floor was met with with an epic eye roll.

  2. When at the Kennedy School I took a class that was offered jointly with the business school and was struck by the thousand-year Turkish mosaic that decorated one of the buildings. I mentioned that to a classmate, who responded that when he took a class at the school of public health, he was struck by the fact that none of the computers in the computer lab worked.

  3. According to students, the members [of “this underbelly at H.B.S. of extremely wealthy individuals” ] are mostly male and mostly international students from South America, the Middle East and Asia. They organize “the real parties, the parties where it’s a really limited list, the extravagant vacations — I mean really extravagant,” …“More than once I heard that ‘the only middle-class students here are the Americans,’” another recent graduate said.

    This sounds like Euro-trash. Thats a different social dynamic from “the folks who gave us W” in my experience (I should add).

    I was an undergrad at a school with a significant Euro-trash population. My roomie was WASP elite. The two were different scenes. I gravitated toward the former because:

    1. It was significantly easier for me to hook up with women there, being brown and all
    2. The women were really really hot
    3. Even though I was not one of them I had a mildly international pedigree, having lived in a few countries.
    4. I sorta dressed like them, just by coincidence (jeans, football shoes, long hair, and a blue blazer…at the time)
    5. They had, and I probably shared, a mildly condescending attitude toward the Ugly Americans
    6. I lost this attitude as I became more Right Wing.

    At some point, I commented to the aforementioned roomie, that I never really made any true friends in that scene. Then I drifted back into the waspy deadhead frat-boyish scene (which I think is more W)

  4. I say let Harvard be Harvard. Of course, for many years I thought “Veritas, christo et ecclesiae” was Latin for crush the weak so I’m not really in a position to criticize a institution of higher learning.

  5. Well, I wonder though if some of those HBS alum aren’t also subsidizing the larger university’s ginormous endowment. That might almost excuse some of this.

    I think it is great to see the NYT and HBS actually taking gender equality seriously. I doubt it will last, but it is truly what this world needs. One of them anyhow. I’d love to see them focus on **business ethics.** Wouldn’t that be nice? Or, do those exist?

    I’ve said this before, but we should remember we are still primates. Powerful monkeys are frightening to the rest of us, and we should all be responsible for working on this. PS- the K School seems massively overpriced and snooty too, but I might just be saying that b/c they didn’t offer me any money to go there. No regrets though.

      1. Very interesting, esp. this page I thought: http://www.danielsfund.org/Grants/Ethics/Outcomes.asp.

        I think it would be a huge challenge to try to be an ethical businessperson, and I am so glad people are trying! I wish I could take some of those courses.

        I hope being ethical is a long-term business advantage. I know it is *sometimes,* but our society is so focused on the “now.” I’d like to believe it, anyhow.

  6. Q: What is it when the entire student body of Harvard Business School rents a bus, gives the class president, overcrowds it by cramming every member on, and then the bus goes off a cliff?

    A: Cost-effective.

  7. Matt Yglesias commented the Harvard is a hedge fund which runs a university as a tax dodge.

    And the big Cthulu in the room. Is the relationsihip betwwen HBS and the Crash. Economics was deeply corrupt and causal; HBS should have been far more involved.

    1. You know, one good thing is, Harvard people — most of them anyhow, imo — really do care about the name. They want it to mean something. My guess is, this situation with the crash — the overall indictment of finance that is, as I’m not familiar with who went where, exactly — has not gone unnoticed.

      And we got Sen. Warren from Harvard, didn’t we? So it’s not all lost yet.

  8. Somewhat related is what is probably the weirdest approach to college ranking of all times, the “Alma Mater Index” of the Times Higher Education supplement. The basis for this ranking is as simple as it is meaningless (for most people): The index simply counts the number of degrees a university has awarded to Fortune 500 CEOs.

    Unsurprisingly, Harvard leads the rankings (by a virtual mile). It makes you wonder if Harvard can still be accurately described as a university or as a business networking institution that also awards degrees (good degrees, mind you, but I’m talking about the expectations of students).

  9. Mitch Guthman says:
    September 10, 2013 at 2:51 pm
    “I say let Harvard be Harvard. Of course, for many years I thought “Veritas, christo et ecclesiae” was Latin for crush the weak so I’m not really in a position to criticize a institution of higher learning.”

    Since Harvard seems to be crushing us, leaving it alone is a recipe for further crushing.

  10. I remember the story of the six blind men and the elephant, when I look at Mike’s post and then this article by Steve Sailer: http://takimag.com/article/thats_frances_with_an_e_steve_sailer#axzz2eTe5AR3T
    and this by McMegan:http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-09-10/harvard-s-gender-bender.html

    Mike’s focus is on the anti-egalitarian quality of the place, and why is it getting tax expenditures!? Steve says the dean is lesbian, and she disapproves of the women there who are tarting themselves up to catch a captain of industry, rather than looking to be captains themselves. The volunteer moms at Steve’s kids’ school were MBA stay at homes married to MBAs, and the activities were all very well organized! And McMegan notes the marriage market aspects of the place, and stoutly defends women making their own choices whatever the context they find themselves in. I LIKE the Yglesias characterization quoted by Barry “ Harvard is a hedge fund which runs a university as a tax dodge.”

    Now I just need to find the article described by the other three blind men…

    1. Sailer seems to be adept at following some basic conservative precepts to their logical, albeit unseemly, conclusions. Interestingly, he puts forward a right wing narrative that the left is always accusing the right of harboring elicitly, and yet one that is almost categorically denied. However his intellectual cohort is actually very substantial, both in its history and influence from figures as prominent as Murray and Buchanan to the less well known but nonetheless pedigreed racialists.

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