Deciphering B-Jargon

International MBAs "hammer out deals" and "get called on the carpet." Plus: Harry Potter 101; Thunderbird's land deal; Harvard rings a bell; education costs rise; and Yale's big win

As a Columbia B-school student back in the mid-1990s, Tracy Yun found herself perplexed by basic business world jargon she encountered in the classroom and in the corporate world. The textbook English she had learned while growing up in China left her at a loss when confronted with phrases like "called on the carpet" and "bucking for a raise."

"It took me a while to get up to speed in perfecting my English," said Yun, now executive director of Manhattan Review, a New York management- and career-training center. "At the time, I thought it would be great if someone could teach me a whole spectrum of these business words."

Yun is helping students now facing similar quandaries by teaming up with Columbia Business School to offer an English Language Skills and Cultural Interaction Boot Camp. She designed the program along with Joern Meissner, another former international Columbia student and PhD graduate of the school. It was an online pilot last year and was offered for the first time this August as a pre-orientation class.

Armed with electronic dictionaries on the first day of the session, about a dozen students from Argentina, Japan, Spain, and South Korea pored through a textbook called Smart Business Talk filled with hundreds of idioms and business slang terms.

With instructor John Beer's guidance, students analyzed the meaning behind expressions like "working stiff" and "hammer out a deal," and practiced using them in sentences and mock business scenarios, including one where students staged a scene asking their boss for a raise.

"You tell me I'm dead wood, and I tell you I work as hard as a dog. I've been jumping through hoops for you," said Sara Carner, a first-year student from Spain, during a mock employee-review scenario.

Her classmate, Kyong-Taek Lee, a first-year student from South Korea playing her employer, quickly put Carner in her place. "You think you work like a dog, but I think you need to work your fingers to the bone to get promoted," Lee shot back.

Columbia officials said they hope that these expressions will come in handy for students as they interview on campus for summer internships and later, when they enter the workforce.

"At the beginning, students have to be encouraged to do things that are not in their cultural norms or comfort zones," said Judith Kostin, director of corporate strategy and international advising at the school's MBA career-services office. "What we're trying to do is give them a little edge and make them feel comfortable."

Harry Potter 101

The wheelings and dealings among witches and wizards in J.K. Rowling's famous Ministry of Magic will serve as the foundation of a new political science class at Babson College this fall. The class, Harry Potter & Politics, developed by professor Stephen Deets, will help undergraduate business students understand the blockbuster seven-book series in the context of globalization, media conglomerates, and international trade disputes.

Deets, an ardent Harry Potter fan, has wanted to teach such a class for several years, but waited until the final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out this summer. It may be the first political science class of its kind to hit college campuses, Deets said.

While the beloved books themselves will serve as a backdrop to lectures, students will use as textbooks titles such as Harry Potter and International Relations—a collection of essays from more than a dozen international-relations scholars—and articles from academic literature, law journals and other publications.

"When I started thinking about the class seriously, I was shocked at how much academic literature there is out there," Deets said. "I saw all these things and thought, 'Wow, there's actually enough here that I could pull this off.'"

Those lucky enough to get a seat in the class will find themselves analyzing major events in Harry Potter's world and reflecting how they mirror issues in popular culture. Deets said he plans to draw comparisons between pivotal decisions made by the Minister of Magic and bureaucratic battles in the Pentagon over the war in Iraq.

In the first few classes, students will explore the politics of identity, looking at the inherent biases wizards hold against goblins and house-elves and how they influence the wizarding world, Deets said. The antics of Rita Skeeter, the conniving Daily Prophet reporter in the book who publishes questionable stories about Harry Potter and Voldemort's return, will be examined though the lens of how the media shapes public perception of issues.

Deets says he expects most students will be "deeply familiar" with the series, Deets said. Finding such a cohort of Harry Potter fans on campus was not a problem: Registration for the 30-student class opened last April at 7 a.m., and the class filled to capacity within 15 minutes.

Harvard Bell Goes Home

A bell predating the Russian Revolution that has been in the cupola of Harvard Business School's Baker Library for the past 75 years is returning home.

The bell is part of an 18-piece ensemble at Harvard known as the Danilov bells, one of the few sets of its kind that survived the Stalinist era, according to a statement from the school. The bells were a gift from Charles Crane, a U.S. industrialist and diplomat who purchased them in the 1920s to prevent them from being destroyed by the Soviet government.

The Baker Library bell, which weighs 4,731 pounds, was removed by a crane from the library Aug. 15 and is expected to arrive in Moscow on Sept. 12. It will be returned to its original home, the St. Danilov Monastery, regarded as the spiritual home of Russian Orthodoxy, according to the school.

In its place, the B-school has installed a new, mostly copper Centennial Bell crafted in Russia featuring images of Baker Library, the St. Danilov monastery, and a Fabergé egg. The remaining 17 bells are located at Lowell House, a dormitory for Harvard undergraduates, and will be sent to Russia next summer.

Thunderbird Sells Land

Thunderbird School of Global Management is selling 65 acres of vacant land on its Glendale (Ariz.) campus as a part of its strategic plan. The school will use funds from the land sale to pay off debt, increase its endowment, and reinvest money into the school's core 40-acre campus.

Cachet Homes will build 281 homes on 50 acres of the land, while the remaining 15 acres will be used to build a planned apartment community targeting students, staff and faculty. The move is part of a broader effort by the school to gain financial stability. This fiscal year is the first time in several years the school had a balanced budget, said Thunderbird spokeswoman Carol Sunnucks.

"As a standalone business school that is not associated with another university and is not state-funded, we had to operate as a business and make these changes, not only to help with the finances, but to keep ourselves competitive," Sunnucks said.

Thunderbird's revenue for the 2006-07 fiscal year was $57 million, a 7.5% increase over the previous year, and officials expect this figure to grow, Sunnucks said. Much of this growth has been fueled by the school's new corporate learning division, which brings in about 40% of the school's revenue. Enrollment is also up; the school expects to enroll 11.5% more students than last year, Sunnucks said.

Thunderbird officials declined to release the sale price of the land.

College Costs Rise

The inflation gauge used by higher education officials to track the costs of running a university increased by 3.4% in the 2007 fiscal year, a harbinger that college tuition could rise slightly this year. The increase in the the Higher Education Price Index (HEPI), compiled by Research Associates of Washington, D.C., is lower than a year earlier, when the index rose 5%.

Sandy Baum, senior policy analyst at the College Board, which tracks tuition data, said it's "reasonable" to think that if HEPI rises, tuition might follow suit. The College Board will release a study on 2007 tuition in October. In the 2006 fiscal year, tuition rose about 6% in public and private four-year colleges, while the HEPI rose 5%.

"In general, it is certainly true that if the Higher Education Price Index goes up more rapidly, it will mean upward pressure on tuition," Baum said. "However, it is not a one-to-one correlation.… A lot of other things not reflected in the price index could also put upward pressure on tuition."

In 2007, the cost index showed that faculty salaries increased by 3.8%, higher than last year's rise of 3.1%, while fringe benefits jumped 5%, the same as last year. The cost of supplies and materials rose 6.8%, the sharpest increase of the eight categories making up the index.

The HEPI always rises at a faster rate than the consumer price index because salaries and compensation at colleges tends to go up faster over time than average prices in the economy, Baum said.

Between the 2001 and 2007 fiscal years, the HEPI went up 22%, while the consumer price index rose 14%, according to College Board statistics. While the index accounts for items like salary, compensation, and utilities, it does not factor in costly expenses like investment in technology and new buildings.

Yale Wins CNBC Contest

The winner of CNBC's Fast Money MBA Challenge is the Yale School of Management. The Aug. 22 episode, which aired live from the NASDAQ MarketSite in New York's Times Square, pitted students from Yale against a team from the University of Texas at Austin's McCombs School of Business.

It was the final of seven games that were played out over four episodes. The business trivia show tested students' knowledge of ticker symbols and financial trivia and was modeled after the 1960s-era GE College Bowl.

Students from Columbia, Dartmouth, MIT's Sloan School, NYU, UCLA, University of Chicago also participated.

The Yale team will split a $200,000 prize, which can be used for school-related expenses.