Bob Bruner is the eighth dean of the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration at the University of Virginia. He teaches and conducts research in finance and management. Before his appointment as dean in August 2005, Bruner served as the founding executive director of Darden's Batten Institute, which focuses on entrepreneurship and innovation. There, he expanded Darden's Business Incubator.
As a financial economist, Bruner is best known for his research on mergers and acquisitions, corporate finance and financial panics. His books include "Deals from Hell," "Applied Mergers and Acquisitions" and "The Panic of 1907: Lessons Learned from the Market's Perfect Storm," with Sean D. Carr, which attracted wide attention for its discussion of the underpinnings of financial crises.
Question: Can video replace classroom learning?
Bob Bruner: I think video education is okay and useful for basic skills, for presenting a concept, for defining terms, for showing how a system might unfold. But what qualifies for a leading business school education is necessarily the growth not only in basic skills, but also knowledge... that is to say, knowledge that unifies across skills, across environments. And then attributes. Attributes such as the ability to communicate well, to persuade, to negotiate, to lead.
And as you go up the ladder from skills to knowledge to attributes, we’ve discovered that the students benefit much more from face-to-face contact, from interaction with mentors and teachers on a very direct and personal basis. So I think of technology as a complementary resource for great educational institutions. I think it’s something we need to absorb, we need to continue to embrace and experiment with and yet not assume that it is the panacea for our needs.
Let me tell you an example, if I may. At the Darden School, we were selected by Amazon.com to be one of five institutions who would run a pilot using the Amazon Kindle as a device for downloading case studies and studying them and using them in class as case study as a document of five to 30 or 40 pages in length. It consists of a great deal of text and a number of tables and graphs, etc. We all aspire for the day when we can use electrons rather than molecules of wood or fiber to transmit knowledge and therefore this seemed like a wonderful experiment.
We were the only case-study-based institution in this pilot program of Amazon’s and we took one of our five sections of the first year of our MBA program students, about 65 students, and gave each of them a Kindle and each of them the right to take the paper version of each case study. What we discovered over the course of the semester that we ran this exercise was that students really liked the Kindle for documents that were pure text that merely involved the reading and then reflection on ideas. And these would be materials in the area of human behavior, perhaps some materials in economics and the like, communications. Other subject matters, such a finance, accounting, operations, heavily quantitative materials where students are flipping back and forth between text and tables, the student found that those cases were difficult to use on the Kindle.
What did we conclude from all of this? We conclude that the Kindle and other digital readers are wonderful supplements for the distribution of electronic material. Darden is the second largest publisher of case materials in the United States, one of the largest, maybe the second in the world, and therefore it’s in our own interests to find ways to disseminate our intellectual property digitally. But what matters is not the cost of the school or the convenience to administrators, but what matters is the learning of the students. And if the learning is best promoted through a physical document, then we will deliver our material that way. That’s what we’re doing this year. But indeed we’re digitizing virtually our entire library. And we expect a version of the readers and other digital media will eventually make it easy to use our materials that way.
Question: Is there a place for for-profit education?
Bob Bruner: I’m the chair of a task for of Deans organized by the AACSB that accredits business schools around the world. This task force is focusing on the globalization of management education. Among the findings in our study is a census of institutions that grant degrees in business of one kind or other, and we think of business schools as really numbering 100 or 200 or some small number, but in fact, the census reveals that there are over 12,600 institutions worldwide.
This is a vast, vast field of whom perhaps, at most, 10% of the institutions are accredited, meaning that somebody of an independent nature has come in and looked at the professors, the curriculum, the quality of the students, the facilities, and said, “This is a credit worthy institution. Students who apply to and attend this school get a decent education.” So as I think of the challenge in the balance of this century is simply to raise the bar across the entire field. For indeed, many of these 12,600 institutions are storefronts somewhere in the world, opened by an entrepreneur, perhaps somebody with an MBA from some institution, but is maybe somebody who may mean well, but who also finds profit-making business in teaching students about business.
We as a field in management education are still in the early stage of development though some schools number their years as well over 100. Truly, the field has grown rather rapidly in the last 50 years and there’s much to be done yet in the form of advancing quality. Now the juiciest opportunities will be in several areas, I’ll give you three: One is technology; the adoption of learning media that can really raise the game of the students near and far. The second is globalization, because truly management and business are no longer merely local; they’re national and indeed international and we need to develop students who are globally ready and globally confident. A third development is the interface between business and government and education and government. Government will be involved in the fields of business and in education much more deeply than in years past. But we need to absorb that into our curricula and truly build in our graduates the capacity to function well in that interface between business and government.
Crises are fundamentally psychological phenomena, they’re not driven by rational decision-making necessarily, they are driven by fear and somewhat driven by greed.