My Antibusiness Business Education
Liberal politicians might say the economy is ‘rigged.’ But a business school? Since the 2008 financial crisis, the business world has come under fire, with public attacks on Wall Street greed, big banks and wealthy Americans. With the 2016 election just nine months away, there is a growing chorus that the entire U.S. economic system is “rigged.” While you might expect such antibusiness rhetoric from left-leaning politicians, it is now part of the curriculum at many business schools.
I am a recent graduate of Bentley University, a small business-oriented college located in Waltham, Mass., just outside Boston. The school typically ranks among the top 25 undergraduate business programs in the country. Like many other business schools, Bentley prides itself on an advanced business curriculum infused with “the richness of a liberal arts education.” Yet rather than providing a solid grounding in the classical humanities—which would be very useful in the business world—many of the nonbusiness courses I took espoused an illiberal attitude toward American capitalism and business in general.
In sociology, we were lectured on how the richest 1% of Americans control more than 50% of the wealth in the country but don’t pay their “fair share” of taxes. We were also informed that the average pay for the CEO of a Fortune 500 company is more than 344 times the average salary for workers in their firms. In expository writing, for our final paper in the class, we had to compose a persuasive essay on why the American dream is dead in the 21st century.
In biology, rather than dissecting fetal pigs or frogs, we watched “documentaries” such as “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Gasland” to learn about global warming, climate change and the environmental dangers posed by hydraulic fracturing and fossil-fuel companies. Almost every one of my elective history and literature courses seemed to dwell on some low point of capitalism, including the trustbusting era of the late 1800s, the decadent Roaring 1920s, the Great Depression and, of course, the 2008 financial crisis and the ensuing “Great Recession.”
Many of these themes were reinforced in my general business classes. In my introductory accounting and finance course, we learned the basics by studying all of the major corporate frauds of the past two decades, including Enron, Sunbeam, WorldCom and Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. In business law and ethics, rather than specific statutes and individual integrity, we focused on whether the goals of corporate sustainability and social responsibility were compatible with profit maximization, along with another review of the rogues’ gallery of Jeff Skilling, Al Dunlap and the Bernies—Ebbers and Madoff. In human behavior and organizations, instead of organizational theory, we discussed social justice issues such as the glass ceiling, equal pay and racism in the workplace.
I majored in Finance, and it was only in these more quantitative core courses that I was able to find a safe space from the ideological indoctrination. Bentley has a first-rate trading room supported by cutting-edge technology and real-time market data feeds. This provided the perfect learning environment for dissecting corporate 10-K filings, building discounted cash-flow models, analyzing technical trends and studying the global economy and financial markets.
Unfortunately, only 20% of the 122 credits that I needed to graduate went toward satisfying the requirements for my Finance major, while more than half of the courses that I took seemed designed to turn me into a self-loathing Finance major.
The discovery of a liberal-minded college—business or otherwise—in Massachusetts is not breaking news. And Bentley University is not unique among undergraduate business programs across the country, many of which have probably adjusted their course offerings and branding since the financial crisis.
For some business students, like me, the antibusiness bias of some courses serves as a distraction but doesn’t derail one’s career focus. For others, particularly undecided undergraduates, such messaging will become internalized and transmitted over time from the college campus to the working world, which is probably the long-term goal.
For all students, though, it waters down their business degree and raises the overall cost of a college education by tacking on superfluous and superficial courses that displace valuable technical learning. This is particularly troubling given today’s weak job market for graduating seniors and the fact that most college educations are financed with student debt. One would think that a business college would be run more like a business, focused on creating the best value-added, cost-effective product for its targeted consumer market.
During my four years of college, annual tuition costs increased by a compound annual growth rate of 3.6%, or roughly double the rate of U.S. consumer price inflation over the same period. For the fully-loaded cost of my four years at Bentley University—tuition plus student fees, housing and meals—I could have purchased a twin-turbo, two-door 2016 Bentley Continental GT V8 S coupe, which notably comes in either the blue or gold colors of my alma mater. I am still working on that comparative return analysis.
Mr. Matthew T. Tice is an investment research analyst and a 2015 graduate of Bentley University.