From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession

Is management a profession? Must it be? Can it be? This major work of social and intellectual history reveals how such questions have driven business education and shaped American management and society for more than a century. The book may be a call for reform. Rakesh Khurana shows that university-based business schools were founded to train a professional class of managers in the mold of doctors and lawyers but have effectively retreated from that goal, leaving a gaping moral hole at the center of business education and perhaps in management itself.

Khurana begins in the late nineteenth century, when members of an emerging managerial elite, seeking social status to match the wealth and power they had accrued, started working with major universities to establish graduate business education programs paralleling those for medicine and law. Constituting business as a profession, alternatively, required codifying the knowledge relevant for practitioners and developing enforceable standards of conduct. Khurana, drawing on a rich set of archival material from business schools, foundations, and academic associations, traces how business educators confronted these challenges with varying strategies all the way through the Progressive era and the Depression, the postwar boom years, and latest decades of freewheeling capitalism.

Today, Khurana argues, business schools have in large part capitulated in the battle for professionalism and have develop into merely purveyors of a product, the MBA, with students treated as consumers. Professional and moral ideals that once animated and inspired business schools have been conquered by a perspective that managers are merely agents of shareholders, beholden only to the reason for share profits. According to Khurana, we Must not thus be surprised at the upward push of corporate malfeasance. The time has come, he concludes, to rejuvenate intellectually and morally the training of our future business leaders.

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