The new BusinessWeek rankings of business schools are out. Thousands of future MBAs will pour over the statistically insignificant differences between similarly ranked schools to decide which will receive their quarter million dollars.

Of course, we can disagree over the finer points of methodology. But first, BusinessWeek needs to show us that they are capable of basic math.

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In 2007, University of North Carolina basketball standout Tyler Hansbrough shared with Sports Illustrated how he is availing himself of UNC’s academic opportunities:

There’s no reason I chose Swahili other than that I thought it would be cool. I enjoy it.

Now we learn that “Swahili” is UNC-speak for “a non-existent class.”

Other professors linked to the Swahili class and eight others have disowned them, and the investigation has found their signatures were forged on course paperwork.

In fact, athlete-heavy summer classes like “SWAH 403: Intermediate Swahili” never met. Other suspect classes had only a single student–a basketball player–officially enrolled.

How does UNC basketball coach Roy Williams respond to the discovery? Will he call for an investigation? Demand higher academic standards? Offer platitudinous rationalizations?

It is not a basketball issue. It’s a university issue.

The players were eligible to be enrolled in those classes, as were non-student-athletes, and they did the work that was assigned to them.

How do you say “college credit for jump shot” in Swahili?

  1. It takes the sustained effort of many people to create a positive corporate culture. It takes a few people no time at all to ruin it.
  2. When someone starts a sentence with “We benchmarked our performance against …” it means they screwed up, and are now covering their asses.
  3. Trying to build consensus where none is possible is not leadership. Making a decision respected by those who disagree is.
  4. People who do the least while in power are the most critical of their leaders while out of power.
  5. Thinking “out of the box” doesn’t make you clever. Having more tools in your box does.
  6. Many of the best business ideas seem obvious, like opening a bar across the street from a Baptist college.
  7. Lawyers generally abhor qualifying adverbs, while economists can rarely write a sentence without at least two of them.
  8. You can’t just tell people that you value them, you have to show them. You can’t just show people that you value them, you have to tell them.
  9. It takes less effort to act ethically than to create the pretense of acting ethically. Yet, most prefer the latter to the former.
  10. People read Top Ten lists. Even if you have only nine things to say, stretch it to ten.

Among the many issues with ranking schools, one of the most glaring is incorporating the input of those who are impacted by the result. Students reporting on MBA programs or University presidents ranking schools all put people influenced by the result in a position to influence the results. This creates quite the incentive problem.

Recent evidence comes from the rankings of schools (pdf) provided by University of Florida President Bernie Machen. The surveyed rankings are an integral part of the U.S. News ranking formula, and were obtained by the Gainesville Sun in a public records request. Other Florida university presidents were shrewd enough to “lose” theirs.

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Ranking journals is a popular pastime among academics. Each of us has a favorite ranking, largely chosen by the results fitting with our favorite publication outlets. There are more debates over the methodology of journal rankings than of ranking business schools. There may be no universal agreement on the right method but there certainly is a wrong one.

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