“Students or Customers” Debate Continues

The debate over the so-called “corrupting practice” of treating MBA students as customers has taken off in the wake of a blog entry we posted recently (Some B-Schools Don’t Want Customers).

Should students have more say over what they are taught and even how they are judged? What’s the risk of the student-consumer approach in MBA programs? And does the issue reflect broader issues in higher education?

Editors of the New York Times dove into the story earlier this week with commentary from various voices from academia. Here’s a glimpse into the mindset of each of the featured educators.

Edward Snyder (dean, Chicago Booth School of Business)

I’ve said it before: The best students don’t view themselves as customers, and they shouldn’t be treated as such…A combination of stretch and support is the answer to the question: how can business schools get more out of their students and better prepare them for diverse careers in turbulent times in all parts of the global economy? (…) The world needs more MBAs who develop in transformational environments, not MBAs on the buy end of transactions.

Stephen Joel Tratchtenberg (president emeritus, George Washington University)

Students are not customers nor are they not customers. (…)Members of faculty dislike the students-as-customer concept because it obliges them to devote time and effort to areas beyond research that they are not interested in and they are not traditionally rewarded for. If these additional criteria were used in promotion and tenure decisions, the faculty might be more responsive to students’ requests but they would also be more challenged.

David Bejou (dean, Elizabeth City State University School of Business)

Treatment of students as customers is not about grades or unrealistic expectations; it is about a new paradigm of shared governance…Treat MBA students like customers and empower them to be responsible for their learning. Reward the faculty for applying their cutting edge applied research in shaping the future leaders who happen to have MBA’s.

Richard Vedder, (professor of economics, Ohio University)

The growth in grade inflation, the near abandonment of Friday classes on many campuses, and the provision of country club-like facilities are three indicators that universities increasingly look at students as customers requiring pampering…The “student as customer” philosophy has created an underworked and overindulged group of future national leaders, something that likely will prove costly in the long run.

Mark C. Taylor (professor of religion, Columbia University)

The controversy in many business schools swirling around practice of treating education as a product and students as customers would be comic if it did not reflect the widespread failure of people inside and outside colleges and universities to acknowledge the looming financial crisis in higher education…To deny that higher education is a product and students are customers is to ignore the reality of the current situation and to duck the tough questions we should be asking.

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