Haas Launches New MBA Curriculum

UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business (Haas Full-Time MBA Profile) on May 3 announced the overhaul of its MBA curriculum. Drawing upon Berkeley's history and reputation as a change maker and the distinctive Haas culture, Dean Richard Lyons says he wants the new curriculum to start a revolution. He is aiming to produce what he calls "path-bending leaders" capable of critical and systems thinking, and everything in between.

The centerpiece of the curriculum overhaul, Haas' first since 2006, is a thematic approach that emphasizes analytical thinking, flexibility, and creativity. Two existing core courses have been restructured, and new features have been added, including courses, workshops, and coaching sessions on leadership skills. The changes, which were overwhelmingly approved by faculty 54-0, with four abstentions, were decided after an evaluation of curriculum changes at Yale School of Management (Yale Full-Time MBA Profile), Stanford Graduate School of Business (Stanford Full-Time MBA Profile), and the University of Michigan Ross School of Business (Ross Full-Time MBA Profile), among others. Lyons says the new curriculum, which takes effect this fall, is unique. "What is different here is the coherence and focus," he says, "and the fact that our location and values make us capable of producing path-bending leaders."

Motivated by the realization that his young children and the rest of their generation will be facing major problems if better leaders aren't nurtured, Lyons and the Haas community set forth on what seemed like a deeply personal mission from the start. "Society faces a host of [issues]—be it in health care, energy, materials use, demographic implications, safe water, etc.," writes Lyons in an e-mail. "If paths continue in a straight line, they will hit a wall in our kids' lifetime, if not our own."

Defining Principles

Students, alumni, recruiters, and faculty all had a say in everything from the defining principles to the individual courses over the more than 18 months of research and debate the school underwent to determine how the new curriculum would look. The end result, says Lyons, builds on the Haas tradition of molding MBAs who question the status quo, are confident without an attitude, never stop learning, and always think beyond themselves. These core values, which were decided upon by the Haas community with heavy input from students, will be used to screen MBA applicants as part of the admissions process and will be reinforced throughout the program.

The Berkeley Innovative Leader Development (BILD) curriculum will be applied to full-time, evening, and weekend MBA programs. Once accepted, students will get their first taste of the new curriculum as early as orientation, where they'll be introduced to the new framework. From there, they will face the core curriculum, which on the surface doesn't seem to be changing all that much but Lyons says is becoming more integrative and concentrated on producing specific leadership skills.

Haas revamped two of the core courses, "Leadership & Communications" and "Leading People," to provide students with skills that graduates will need, such as the ability to influence others. In addition, students must take "Problem Finding and Problem Solving," a new one-unit course that focuses on framing problems and generating solutions and that is a prerequisite to a required experiential learning class.

There are seven experiential learning courses, from which students must choose one. Each will have students working with a real client. Their options include "Clean Tech to Market," which pairs business students with those working in the Berkeley clean energy lab to help them commercialize new technologies, and "Haas at Work," which has students helping real corporate clients on big strategy issues. A performance module that offers reviews and coaching from professional facilitators, a series of relevant electives, and optional leadership development workshops round out the new curriculum offerings.

Overhaul Trend

Many of the students and alumni have expressed excitement about the changes, while at the same time feeling as though the new curriculum was a long time coming. One alumnus from the undergraduate Class of 1950 wrote to Lyons, he says, about the defining principles: "These were here when I was here." Others, who were part of the overhaul, wish they could stay in school a bit longer. "I can't believe I'm missing this," says Liz Rockett, a second-year MBA student pursuing a dual degree with the School of Public Health. "What's most exciting to me is seeing how much they're trying to integrate things that already happen [at Haas] to strengthen students' foundation."

While the curriculum is new for Haas, other top business schools arrived at the party first. At Yale, a curriculum overhaul in 2006 introduced an integrated curriculum that replaced standalone courses in disciplines such as marketing and finance with multidisciplinary classes organized around specific organizational constituencies such as customers or investors. In 2007, Stanford launched a new curriculum built entirely around the ideas of customization and flexibility, which allowed students to tailor their coursework to their past education, work experience, and future aspirations.

For the past five years or so, many businesspeople and even professors have questioned the relevance and usefulness of an MBA. The recent economic crisis has pushed questions about MBA programs even closer to the forefront. And curriculum change is one way business schools are reacting. David A. Garvin and Srikant M. Datar, authors of Rethinking the MBA: Business Education at a Crossroads, say curriculum overhauls like Haas' that highlight the role and responsibilities of leaders are urgently needed. The two are professors at Harvard Business School (Harvard Full-Time MBA Profile), and Lyons consulted Datar about the changes at Haas. "We talked to many deans and executives and they all say there's a need for greater self-awareness [on the part of MBAs]," says Garvin.

Indeed, Lyons agrees that some internal reflection might help the economy now. "The best answer a CEO can give you [when asked about ethics at his company] is, 'This is part of our culture and fits into everything we do,' " says Lyons. That's what he says Haas is trying to do with this new curriculum—make leaders who are more self-aware and responsible.