Poison ivy. Firms governed by their quarterly-earnings reports? Young Wall Street hotshots driven by greed? Harvard's business school has frequently been attacked as a source of the low-grade ethical standards that lead to these and other corporate sins. So how does the school itself operate? If the conclusions that J. Paul Mark can't bring himself of write in The Empire Builders: Inside the Harvard Business School (William Morrow & Co., 1987) are true, you'll be outraged. Trouble is, Mark can't decide whether he's discovered a mountain of immorality or has just tripped over some random molehills.
He does have some titillating stories. There's the one about the professor who uses his best students to staff his outside consulting firm. There's another about the school's deal with IBM Corp. to create a cozy monopoly market for the company's computers at the expense of incoming students. And there's the dollars-for-scholars program in which large contributors -- especially prominent consulting firms -- get the inside recruiting track in proportion to the cash they pony up.
I'm not sure how Mark feels about all these practices, though I think they upset him. Worse, however, I'm not sure whether they're true -- or if true, are typical of Harvard's (or any other school's) behavior. Instead of making his charges and then backing them up with evidence, Mark merely hints around. He admits in a preface that he doesn't know whether the people he writes about are representative of the entire faculty. He should have found out before writing the book.
If the Harvard B-school condones -- never mind encourages -- the dealings that Mark describes, you'd have to wonder if it's a fit place to raise the next generation of business leaders. But we'll have to wait for the next generation of muckrakers to find out.
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