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Wharton and Harvard Are Missing

By Francesca Di Meglio Two top business schools -- Wharton and Harvard -- have been dropped from a publication ranking B-school programs because they declined to participate in the information-gathering process.

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a partner to The Economist , will soon release the 2005 edition of the book Which MBA?, based on its business school rankings, but Wharton and Harvard will be missing from the annual list. The schools didn't provide the information to the publication because they say compiling it takes up too much staff time and that overall, magazine rankings don't accurately reflect the quality of individual schools.

PAPERWORK OVERLOAD.The tiff over the Economist rankings comes at a time of increasing disquiet among business schools concerning such rankings, first introduced in 1988 by BusinessWeek (see BW Online, 8/5/05, "A Rank Offense to B-Schools?"). Many educators are critical of the various methodologies publications use and for reducing schools to a number.

In addition, filling out the paperwork for the now numerous magazine rankings requires resources that some schools either don't have or would rather allocate elsewhere. All these factors have many in the B-school world wondering if educators will stop participating in rankings altogether.

Administrators at HBS take issue with reports that they're refusing to participate in rankings. "We didn't fill out the forms, but we make sure our data are publicly available, and that has been our policy for the last couple of years," says David R. Lampe, executive director of marketing and communications at HBS.

ONE SIZE FITS ALL. He adds that the school never provided commercial enterprises access to members of its community and decided a couple of years ago that the media should not have special privileges either. That's why HBS no longer puts those who are conducting rankings in touch with the student body. "It's fine for members of the community to talk to the media, but we don't facilitate access as an institution," says Lampe.

Michael Baltes, Wharton's director of communications, wrote in an e-mail that there wasn't much to add to what Wharton Dean Patrick Harker has already said on the subject of rankings. Harker has been vocal about his opposition to participating in these surveys because of their one-size-fits-all approach to education.

The Economist's research includes surveys of current students and alumni who have graduated from a full-time MBA program within the past three years. It says it uses the data to measure a school's ability to open new career opportunities, create an environment for personal development and educational experiences, help students increase their salaries, and develop networks for the community.

IN THE RUNNING.For the first time, EIU ranked a non-American MBA program, IESE Business School at the University of Navarra in Spain, as No. 1 for 2005. The top five on the EIU list were rounded out by the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, Stanford Graduate School of Business and the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Switzerland.

Harvard and Wharton were No. 4 and 8, respectively, on EIU's rankings in 2004. They didn'ot participate last year, either, but EIU had enough historical data to keep them in the running -- and ultimately on the list, says Tim Hindle, management editor for The Economist in London.

Hindle recently wrote a story about the rankings and adds that EIU was reluctant to leave out the two powerhouses because their absence would be so obvious. But without any data for the past two years, the organization had little to go on. (In 2004, both schools declined to furnish BusinessWeek with contact information for students when it was conducting its biennial rankings of MBA programs. BusinessWeek obtained the information from other, public, sources and included the schools in its rankings.)

Whether other schools will follow the Harvard and Wharton lead and decline to participate in future magazine rankings remains to be seen. But for potential B-school students, the situation is likely to give them an early object lesson in competing priorities.

Di Meglio is a reporter for BusinessWeek Online in Fort Lee, N.J.

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