The business school management
science course is suffering serious decline. The traditional
model- and algorithm-based course fails to meet the needs of
MBA programs and students. Poor student mathematical preparation
is a reality, and is not an acceptable justification for poor
teaching outcomes. Management science Ph.D.s are often poorly
prepared to teach in a general management program, having more
experience and interest in algorithms than management. The management
science profession as a whole has focused its attention on algorithms
and a narrow subset of management problems for which they are
most applicable. In contrast, MBA’s rarely encounter problems
that are suitable for straightforward application of management
science tools, living instead in a world where problems are
ill-defined, data is scarce, time is short, politics is dominant,
and rational decision makers” are non-existent. The root
cause of the profession’s failure to address these issues seems
to be (in Russell Ackoff’s words) a habit of professional introversion
that caused the profession to be uninterested in what MBA’s
really do on the job and how management science can help them.
Science is incredibly useful”
||- CEO of a management science
Science is a waste of time”
||- Business student proverb
There is a troubling dichotomy
in management science. The practice of management science is
alive and well, even booming. The journal Interfaces
is full of articles describing the valuable impact of management
science on business, government and public policy. Management
science applications such as revenue management have made management
science central to corporate strategy. The annual Edelman Prize
competition in Interfaces showcases multi-million dollar
management science success stories.
Simultaneously, management science
is in serious decline in many business schools. In fact, the
required management science course has been eliminated from
many MBA programs. At other schools, required management science
requirements are being reduced or are under threat. Even successful
non-traditional courses are being shrunk, and the process is
ongoing. Although a small and growing number of success stories
suggest that it is possible to reverse this trend (including
Bell, 1997, Bodily, 1996, Carraway and Clyman, 1997,
Liberatore and Nydick, 1999, Powell,
1995, Sonntag and Grossman, 1999
and Winston, 1996), the decline appears
to be continuing at most schools.
It is tempting for an instructor
to read the success stories mentioned above and imitate them
in anticipation of similar success. Although this may improve
the situation in the short run, it is not sufficient. As I shall
show, the forces causing the decline of the business school
management science course have been building for decades. Rather
than rush to a solution, it is important to pause and give careful
attention to the origins of the decline. Instructors must understand
the root cause of the difficulties in order to reversenot
merely arrestthe decline.
Understanding the origins of
the precipitous decline of the business school management science
course requires unflinching examination of past practices and
assumptions. In light of the sudden failure of the course to
satisfy the needs of business schools, we must be willing to
question deeply-held beliefs and values. Such an exercise must
necessarily be distasteful. It entails criticism of the existing
course and the training of management science instructors. The
unavoidable result is that the tone and content of this paper
are strongly negative.
It is tempting to try to balance
the negative with positive suggestions for change. However,
all management scientists understand the importance of clearly
framing a problem before attempting to solve it. Any discussion
of root causes needs to be distinct from discussion of solutions.
Therefore, I separate the diagnosis from the cure, by deferring
my opinions regarding solutions to a future article.
I start by considering the threat
to the business school management science course, and summarize
the content and approach of the traditional course. I examine
the key external constituenciesMBA program directors and
MBA studentsand show how the traditional course is inconsistent
with their goals. I discuss students’ often poor preparation
to learn mathematical material, and instructors’ often poor
preparation to teach in a general management program. I examine
institutional forces, including the role of AACSB accreditation,
that can hinder performance of business school management science
instructors. I show how the weak connection between management
science practice and the practice of general management obscures
the real application of management science by business students
and managers. I diagnose the root cause of the problems to be
(in Russell Ackoff’s words) professional introversion. That
is, the MS profession has generally been unwilling to learn
what our business students need on the job and are capable of
learning given the backgrounds they have. I end by discussing
briefly the challenge of responding to the issues raised.
The Threat to the Business School Management
The key driver of change in
the business school management science course is the fact that
management science courses are being reduced or eliminated from
the required MBA curriculum.
In 1991 the business school
accreditation organization AACSB revised its standards, removing
management science from its protected position as part of the
MBA common body of knowledge. (The current, highly flexible
standards, AACSB (1998) have no required
body of knowledge.) This meant that schools could cut management
science without harming their accreditation. And cut they did,
with many programs (including Harvard, Stanford, Chicago and
Tuck: Powell, 1998) reducing or eliminating
management science from the required core.
In response to the decline of
management science in business schools, INFORMS created a task
force that surveyed business school management science instructors
and the directors of top-20 MBA programs. Their report (Jordan
et al., 1997), widely referred to as the
Magnanti Report, showed clearly that the existing business school
management science course was failing to serve the needs of
the business school programs of the 1990’s.
The Magnanti report describes
the decline of management science in business schools and provides
evidence for the irrelevancy of algorithm- and model-focused
courses. The survey of MBA directors indicates that demand
for particular hard’ OR/MS skills is very low. Where technique
is needed, it involves statistics more than OR/MS. There is
demand for general skill in model formulation and interpretation
and in quantitative reasoning.”
The report finds (Jordan et
al. 1997 §3.3) that:
|There is little support for the role
of the solo OR/MS faculty member providing advanced, specialized
education in the framework of an MBA program. . . . There
is clear evidence that there must be a major change in
the character of the OR/MS course in this environment.
There is little patience with courses centered on algorithms.
Instead, the demand is for courses that focus on business
situations, include prominent non-mathematical issues,
use spreadsheets, and involve model formulation and assessment
more than model structuring.”
Why has management science declined
so precipitously? Why have courses of long standing suddenly
become threatened with reduction or elimination? The answer
is simple: there is a large gap between what is taught in the
traditional business school management science course and the
requirements of MBA programs and MBA students. Clauss (1997
p. 35) puts it succinctly: We found it easy to teach mathematics.
A generation later, we’re still finding it difficult to teach
The Traditional Business School Management
In this section I summarize
the content and goals of the traditional business school management
science course. This is challenging, because little has been
written about what is taught in the course. I base this summary
on the contents of several management science survey textbooks,
discussions with business school management science instructors
at conferences, conversations with business school students
and alumni, discussions with textbook publishers (who have sales
staffs that provide formal feedback on instructor desires),
and the remarks of senior members of the management science
profession who have shared their experiences and perceptions.
The traditional business school
management science course teaches an appreciation of the management
science body of knowledge. This body of knowledge is concerned
with the properties of algorithms applied to models. The traditional
course is organized around a taxonomy of models and solution
techniques. The course teaches a set of structured models (e.g.,
the transportation model), focusing on algorithms and tools.
The goal of the traditional course is for students to become
informed consumers of the output of management science professionals
(Borsting et al., 1988) rather than
to be able to utilize management science themselves.
Although declining in importance,
algorithms are still taught by some business school instructors.
This is changing, however, as none of the spreadsheet management
science survey textbooks include the simplex method. However,
the simplex method is presented in several current management
science survey textbooks, including Anderson, Sweeney, and Williams
(1997), Render and Stair (1997),
Hanna (1996), Lawrence and Pasternack (1998)
and Taylor (1999). The simplex method
is also presented in a popular production and operations management
textbook, (Chase, Aquilano and Jacobs, 1998). One textbook publisher estimates
that at most 25% of the market demands the simplex method.
The traditional course uses
algebraic notation to represent models and the properties of
models. This reliance on algebraic notation is unfortunate because
spreadsheets are the lingua franca of business quantitative
analysis and (as I discuss below) business students have inadequate
mathematical preparation. There is careful attention paid to
sensitivity analysis, which focuses on the computation of ranges
over which results (whether deterministic or stochastic) are
considered valid. Traditional sensitivity analysis can be of
value, but its utility is limited by the absence of meaningful
guidance in how to use any resulting insights to communicate,
persuade or drive change in the business. Data are assumed to
be accurate, complete and available without expenditure of resources,
although it is well known that most analyses by managers or
OR/MS professionals face significant challenges in the acquisition,
management and cleaning of data. O’Keefe (1995) has a stronger opinion: MS/OR
as portrayed in textbooks assumes that any data requirements
can be met; in practice this is patently ridiculous.”
Illustrative and practice problems
are generally toy problems without genuine managerial content.
Real world examples come from Interfaces, but (as I discuss
below) Interfaces articles generally describe projects
with unusually favorable conjunctions of generous resources,
specialist OR/MS talent, plentiful data, and committed management
support. The course relies heavily on a normative model of a
decision maker” who has the power to implement decisions.
This is problematic because most organizations have diffuse
decision-making processes where interpersonal and political
considerations are paramount. Little emphasis is placed on the
practical challenges of performing management science in the
business world. The informed consumer” paradigm assumes
falsely that business graduates have regular interactions with
management science professionals, and is critiqued by Powell
(1997). It is enlightening to compare
the content of the traditional business school management science
course with the goals of MBA programs and MBA students.
MBA program goals need to be
the starting point for any discussion of course content. Although
there are differences among the more than eight hundred business
schools in North America, they have much in common, and one
can reasonably generalize about MBA programs. (This discussion
applies as well to undergraduate programs.)
The annual Business Week survey
of business schools (Business Week, 1998)
and Bickerstaffe (1997) provide
a wealth of useful information on MBA programs. MBA programs
exist to train general managers. General management is a rich
and challenging activity, and it is clear that professional
managers are more effective than amateurs. General management
requires the ability to understand, integrate and apply concepts
from several disciplines including finance, marketing, operations,
information systems, accounting, organizational behavior, and
Although MBA program goals vary
from school to school, they seem to have much in common. MBA
programs seek to graduate students who believe their time and
money were well spent. They seek to train students whom recruiters
want to hire. They seek for their students to become successful
managers and leaders.
articulates a vision for the MBA program that contains five
goals. Graduates should be effective leaders as well as administratively
competent managers. They should have mastery of a comprehensive
core body of knowledge. Graduates should be wise judges who
can assimilate... synthesize...
assess... formulate... & test...
and decide well.” They should be lifelong learners. Graduates
should be whole persons... interesting people
who carry themselves with high ambitions and ideals, and are
able to converse on topics of interest and importance to business
These are important goals, and
I believe that the business school management science course
can and should support these goals. How well does a traditional
management science course do this? Not very well. Programs desire
effective leaders and competent managers, but the management
science course teaches models. For one to formulate &
test” one must be able to create a useful model for any business
situation, but the management science course teaches only a
limited type of formulationessentially structuring of
a handful of standard models with limited applicability. Programs
seek assimilation and synthesis, but the management science
course focuses on algorithms and tools.
Although AACSB once anointed
management science as an element in the MBA common body
of knowledge,” instructors must recognize that the management
science body of knowledge is no longer considered essential
to the MBA. Furthermore, management science is not a functional
area of business, nor is it inherently interdisciplinary (Ackoff,
1979a). Management science is an
intellectual discipline that is too often peripheral to the
needs of MBA programs. This makes it easy for the management
science course to be reduced or eliminated completely.
The strengths, weaknesses, interests
and goals of MBA students are an essential component of any
discussion regarding the business school management science
course. Porter and McKibbin (1988, p.
110) surveyed MBA students in 1985 at the 620 member schools
of the AACSB and report that the top three reasons for obtaining
an MBA are high probability of challenging career opportunities,”
high probability of a good job upon graduation” and intrinsic
interest in business/management.”
Business Week (Business Week,
1998) and Bickerstaffe (1997)
contain much useful information about what students find relevant
and interesting. Students are interested in the practice of
management. They seek learning and growth that will make them
successful in demanding careers. They make a large investment
of time and money (including the opportunity cost of not working
for two years) to take an MBA, and want to receive value for
Borsting et al. (1988)
indicate that students are utilitarian; a major motivation
for taking the degree is their assumption that they will advance
more quickly in organizational hierarchies because they have
the degree....” Bell (1998) indicates that MBA students look
to their courses to provide them with skills and knowledge that
will enable them to make money.”
How well does a traditional
management science course support student goals? Not very well.
Students want to learn practical skills, but the management
science course teaches them mathematics. Students seek support
for challenging careers, but the management science course teaches
them properties of optimality. Students seek skills and knowledge
that will enable them to make money, but the management science
course teaches them to be informed consumers” of the work
of management science experts.
This misalignment between management
scientists and managers is not new. Russell Ackoff, a major
figure in the history of our profession, summarized the misalignment
between students and management science professionals 20 years
ago, when he expressed concern about operations research/management
science as a whole having an obsession with techniques,
combined with unawareness of or indifference to the changing
demands being made of managers” (Ackoff, 1979a). C. Jackson
Grayson, a management scientist, business school dean, and government
leader wrote critically about the relationship between management
science and business practice in the Harvard Business Review
in 1973. (Incidentally, it is interesting to note that in the
1960’s management science appeared regularly in HBR, but no
longer does; see Corbett & Van Wassenhove, 1993.) Grayson argued that management
scientists strip away too much of a real problem: time
constraints, data-availability questions, the people problems,
the power structures, and the political pressuresall the
important, nasty areas that lie close to the essence of managementare
simplified out of existence.” These issues are of the essence
for business school students. Although they are often rightly
assumed away in research projects, they must be addressed in
business school teaching. Management science does have the power
to enable better management of these issues, but the traditional
course simply doesn’t deliver the goods.
MBA Student Mathematical Preparation
Business students are generally
not skilled at math. At conferences it is common to hear instructors
express concern or complaints about students’ poor mathematical
preparation. Despite required statistics courses, business students
(and practicing managers) have poor intuition about probability
and are unable to reason usefully about probabilistic events
(Ingolfsson & Zalkin, 1999, Savage,
1997). Jordan et al. (1997)
survey business school management science instructors and report
that 77% of instructors view the math background of students
or fear of mathematics” as a principal source of teaching and
learning problems. Papageorgiou (1996, p. 232) indicates that
most business students lack the mathematical background
and aptitude necessary to 1) understand the technical aspects
of OR/MS, 2) appreciate their possibilities, and 3) develop
a favorable attitude towards their uses.”
Teaching a mathematically-oriented
course to students with insufficient mathematics backgrounds
has predictable results: frustrated instructors, frustrated
students, and poor teaching ratings. These results in turn entail
low status for the course and vulnerability to reduction or
I suspect that this behavior
by instructors stems from a deep difference in values between
instructors and students. For example, many instructors believe
that a mathematical course is important in its own right, or
that mathematical analysis (albeit inadequately retained by
the bulk of the class) makes the students smarter in some sense.
Some instructors reject students’ utilitarian” interests
(Borsting et al., 1988) or making
money” (Bell, 1998) as valid goals of
If true, this value conflict
poses a serious dilemma for an instructor. His personal values
might impel him to teach mathematically oriented material even
though he recognizes that student preparation is insufficient.
Although I sympathize with this sentiment, it is a trap that
compromises teaching and learning. Anonymous (1998)
in a review of Palmer (1998) insightfully
describe the perils of this approach:
|[Instructors who agonize about students’
poor preparation] sounded like doctors in a hospital saying,
Don’t send us any more sick people--we don’t know
what to do with them. Send us healthy patients so we can
look like good doctors.’ . . . [this] helped me understand
something critical about teaching: The way we diagnose
our students’ condition will determine the kind of remedy
You think your students are brain-dead? Then you’re likely
to drip data bits into their veins, wheeling their comatose
forms from one information source to the next..., hoping
they will absorb enough intellectual nutrients to maintain
their vital signs until they have graduated and paid their
tuition in full. The problem, of course, is that when
the living and breathing arrive in our classroom, this
kind of treatment kills them. But the power of this self-fulfilling
prophecy seems to elude us: we rarely consider that our
students may die in the classroom because we use methods
that assume they are dead.”
Trying to teach mathematical
material to the unpreparedno matter how well-intentionedwill
serve to destroy interest in mathematics and in the valuable
tools of management science. An instructor needs to act based
on what students actually know, rather than on what he wishes
In my experience, the innumerate
crave numeracy. These students despise their inability to extract
meaning from data and numbers, and are grateful to a teacher
who can enable them to use numbers to think critically and communicate
effectively. Poor mathematical preparation presents an extraordinary
opportunity, and management science instructors should seize
it rather than complain about it.
I stress the importance of these foundational
skills for two reasons: first, because they are important
but are almost always taken for granted in graduate-level teaching,
and second, because we must teach them if we are to prepare
our students mentally for learning Management Science itself.
Worst of all, the insistence on teaching a
mathematics-oriented course carries with it the seeds of our
own destruction. If a management science instructor insists
on acting as though students have mathematical preparation they
clearly lack, then a rational response is to remove management
science from the MBA program. Business school management science
instructors have no choice but to adapt their course to the
mathematical preparation of their students. (Some instructors
find this is a compelling reason to use spreadsheets, because
they allow students to do math without knowing it.) Poor student
mathematical preparation is not an acceptable justification
for poor teaching outcomes.
Management Science Instructor Preparation
Earning a Ph.D. in management science or a
related field is a difficult and highly specialized achievement.
It typically requires narrow and deep study of subtle technical
details of algorithms and models, often with a technical result
being the desired goal. It should not be surprising that new
business school teachers want to teach models and algorithms.
Indeed, Jordan et al. (1997) recommends
that INFORMS and dissertation advisers make it clear to Ph.D.
graduates seeking business school positions that they will have
to function in a less mathematical, more team-oriented,
more eclectic environment.”
Consider the differences in interests, experience
and aptitude between business school management science instructors
and MBA students. Management science instructors excel at mathematics,
are comfortable with and often enjoy mathematical theory, and
have a Ph.D. in a quantitative discipline. Business students
are typically not good at math, do not enjoy mathematical theory,
and do not have a Ph.D. Many instructors have never applied
management science (Edwards and Kidd, 1994)
whereas students crave practical application. Management science
instructors often have little or no experience of the business
world (Ackoff, 1979b and still true
today), while MBA students already have several years of business
experience. Instructors strive to become successful academics,
while MBA students strive to become successful managers.
These differences between instructor and student
mean that material that is inherently interesting, relevant
and exciting to management science instructors can be inherently
dull, irrelevant and tedious to business school students. A
Ph.D. in management science, by itself, is not sufficient preparation
for teaching in a business school, especially if unaccompanied
by significant business experience.
Business school professors receive essentially
no formal training in education or pedagogy. (Hesse, 1974
discusses some of the challenges of business school management
science teaching.) Most management science instructors learn
to teach during their Ph.D. programs or at their first academic
job, sometimes in an apprenticeship but all too often by muddling
through as best they can. There is a natural tendency for beginning
teachers to teach as they were taught, and to seek inspiration
in memories of an instructor who once inspired them to learn.
However, this carries with it the risk that business school
instructors will teach in a way that is most effective for their
own learning rather than most effective for their students’
learning. Therefore, it is important that instructors do not
rely exclusively on their own experience as students when teaching
MBA’s. Instructors must consciously adapt their teaching style
to their students.
A new instructor is in a difficult situation!
He is well equipped to teach a traditional course, but students
are neither equipped to learn from it nor are they interested
in investing their time in such an endeavor. Most fresh PhDs
do not have the skills or knowledge to deliver a truly effective
course. Even with growing resources of modern syllabi, textbooks
and teaching materials for him to utilize, it is difficult to
shake the model and algorithm focus. In addition, institutional
issues have delayed the management science profession’s response
to the changing needs of business students, and career pressures
make it difficult for him to invest time on pedagogy.
The business school accreditation agency AACSB
included management science in its common body of knowledge
until 1991. This meant that accredited business schools were
required to teach management science, limiting any debate about
the need for the course or its content. The AACSB requirement
for management science provided shelter from the cold winds
of change that blew through business schools in the late 1980’s,
driven by criticisms leveled by Porter and McKibbin (1988),
the popular press, and recruiters.
In a book about curriculum change at the Weatherhead
School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, Boyatzis
et al (1995) identify three forces that
cause faculty to focus on teaching rather than learning: 1)
the tendency to view faculty as experts that is, as unique
sources of wisdom; 2) The reward system for faculty which stresses
research rather than teaching, and values papers about teaching
and learning less than papers about the concepts within the
discipline; 3) the emphasis on faculty autonomy (if students
were viewed as customers or clients, faculty would have to surrender
some of their autonomy).” They conclude that the consequence
of these forces is that instructors tend to assume learning
rather than promote it. Teaching and learning are then viewed
as the same thing.”
Instructors who are viewed as sources of wisdom
are less likely to ask whether their teaching is relevant to
their students. A reward system that attaches a high opportunity
cost to time spent on pedagogical development provides disincentives
to change. Faculty autonomy allows instructors to discount valuable
feedback from program directors and students if such feedback
is even provided. These forces coupled with AACSB protection
created an institutional environment that provided minimal impetus
for change in the traditional management science course.
Without external pressure to change and protected
from elimination by AACSB, business school management science
teaching was able to carry on as it always had. But when AACSB
protection was lifted, pressures building for decades (consider
Ackoff, 1979a) were released suddenly
and the management science profession was shocked by the decline
that followed. Ironically, the protection provided by AACSB
may have harmed management science in business schools by delaying
recognition of the problems with the traditional course, and
engendering a culture where management science instructors had
the luxury of choosing the material to teach with little regard
for external constituencies..
The Practice of Management Science Is Different from
the Practice of Management
Management science instructors face a particular
challenge because management science is not a functional area
of business. Courses in the functional areas of business (accounting,
finance, information systems, marketing, operations, organizations,
and strategy) are central to general management practice and
have intrinsic interest to students, recruiters and alumni.
These constituencies are vocal when they perceive a problem
with a course. Recruiters and alumni provide a firm anchor in
the everyday world of business that compels schools to maintain
the relevance and importance of the functional area courses.
To the extent that the business school management
science course has an external anchor, it is in the field of
management science practice. When instructors bring management
science applications into the classroom, they look to management
science success stories reported in Interfaces. Because
the examples in Interfaces are so valuable, important
and compelling, it is not unreasonable for an instructor to
conclude that management science is inherently relevant to the
practice of general management.
Unfortunately, traditional OR/MS practice as
reported in Interfaces articles is not particularly relevant
to the practice of general management. Interfaces articles are
aimed at management science professionals, not managers (Rothkopf,
1994). They showcase the value of management
science practiced by teams of management science experts, not
by one or two MBA-holding managers or staff. Interfaces
articles generally focus on the use of management science tools,
but gloss over essential messy complexities that are important
to MBA students such as problem identification, modeling, data,
politics, people, communication strategy and change management.
Any lessons that management science practitioners could teach
MBA students about the practice of management is obscured
in favor of lessons about management science.
Management science professionals have the luxury
of cherry-picking the business situations where management science
is applicable, business processes are stable, sufficient data
exist, resources are available to hire management science experts
and software professionals, and time permits a lengthy development
and implementation process. Management science professionals
have the luxury of ignoring business situations that are unfavorable
to the use of our tools. Reality is different for managers who
by necessity are generalists, have limited data, face severe
time constraints, and rarely have the option of declining a
managerial challenge. Much of traditional management science
practice is simply irrelevant to the activities of general managers
and MBA students.
The management science profession, with its
habit of looking inward to our own notion of practice rather
than outward to the needs of students and external constituencies,
has struggled to respond to the needs of business students.
Diagnosis: Ackoff’s Lament, the Introversion of Management
Why does the traditional management science
course fail to support MBA student goals and MBA program goals?
What is the origin of the gap between what students want to
learn and what the traditional business school management science
course is teaching? The root cause may be a tendency for management
science professionals to be inward-looking rather than outward-looking.
Ackoff (1987) traces
the devolution of management science from its roots as a market-oriented
profession” that defined itself by the class of users
it addressed, through a stage of being an output-oriented
profession” that defined itself by the class of problems
it solved, to becoming an input-oriented profession” that
defines itself by the class of tools it employs. He laments
that management science has become an introverted profession
whose teachers do not address real management problems but instead
focus largely on what they could deal withthe
mathematical tools and techniques.”
Ackoff’s lament is consistent with the state
of the traditional business school management science course.
It helps explain the false comfort taken from AACSB protection,
the mathematical orientation of a course taught to students
with poor math skills (and the associated self-indulgent complaining
about poor student mathematical preparation), the lack of interest
in how students were usingor in reality not usingthe
course material, the near total absence from the literature
of how managers apply management science on those occasions
when they do use it, and the continuing slow response of too
many traditional instructors to the threats facing their course.
It is symptomatic of professional introversion
that the vital context of the MBA program as a whole has been
virtually absent from writings about the management science
course. For example, Borsting et al. (1988)
propose a model business school management science course without
mentioning the larger goals of the business program to which
the course presumably contributes. Happily, Jordan et al. (1997)
and Bell (1997) have broadened the discussion
in recent years.
Looking to the Future
I believe that management science can and should
be the best course in the business school. Achieving this goal
necessitates teaching a very different course from the traditional
one. It will require a process of learning and adaptation for
established teachers, and changes to institutional structures
to enable new management science Ph.D. graduates to teach successfully
in the demanding business school environment.
There is an urgent need for research on what
makes the management science the best course in the business
school. We need to analyze the handful of published success
stories to extract common themes, and articulate a set of principles
to guide management science instructors in modifying the traditional
course. We need to explore the process of learning and professional
development necessary for an instructor to transition away from
the traditional course, and provide specific suggestions to
traditional instructors on how to proceed. Most important, we
need research on how non-expert managers and MBA’s actually
use management science; this is called end-user modeling and
is discussed by Gass (1990), Plane (1994),
Powell (1998), and Sonntag and Grossman
The forces causing the decline of the business
school management science course have been building for decades.
Because of the protection provided by inclusion in the AACSB
common body of knowledge, the management science course did
not need to respond to the needs of MBA programs and MBA students.
Management science instructors had the luxury of defining the
course content with little reference to external constituencies.
This resulted in a course that worked well for management science
instructors, but was vulnerable when the protection of AACSB
was removed in 1991.
The traditional business school management
science course teaches an appreciation for an algorithm- and
model-based body of knowledge to enable students to be informed
consumers. The time for such a course is past. We are now in
a period of transition. Instructors have a window of opportunity
to create a new course that is consistent with business school
programs, enjoyed by students, and revered by colleagues. However,
for some instructors, the window has already closed as business
schools continue to reduce and eliminate the traditional course.
The future of management science in business
schools depends on external factors that have little to do with
the opinions of management scientists. The most important decisions
regarding the future of the business school management science
course will be made by MBA program directors and MBA students,
not by management science professors.
We must address the root causes of the decline
of the traditional course by ceasing to look inward to the habits
and preferences of management science instructors. Our focus
as professional educators needs to be outward-looking. In short,
we need to study what our students need to know and can learn.
The author is grateful to the faculty and attendees
who made the three Teaching Management Science Summer Faculty
Workshops so informative, and to INFORMS, DSI and IFORS for
sponsoring them. I particularly thank the three hosts, Stephen
G. Powell of the Tuck School at Dartmouth (1998), Peter C. Bell
of the Ivey School at Western Ontario (1999) and Wayne L. Winston
of the Kelley School at Indiana (2000) for hosting the workshops.
I am indebted to the many instructors who have approached me
at INFORMS conferences over the years to discuss the opportunities,
threats, victories and defeats they were experiencing at their
schools. I am grateful to textbook editors Beth Golub, Curt
Hinrichs, and Tom Tucker for sharing their uniquely informed
perspective on the business school management science course.
I thank two anonymous referees for their valuable comments.
Relentless feedback from the Associate Editor greatly improved
the exposition and scope. This research was partially supported
by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of
Canada Grant #OGP 0172794. Any errors of omission or commission
are the sole responsibility of the author.
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