Berkeley’s b-school launches new curriculum, considers GSB changes

May 13, 2010, 1:03 a.m.

UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business launched its newly redesigned MBA curriculum last week. The overhaul, the first since 2006, has drawn from a number of influences, including peer institutions such as Stanford.

According to Dean Richard Lyons, Haas administrators looked at Harvard’s publicized overview of similar redevelopments in business school curricula in other institutions over the last five years.

While examining Stanford’s MBA program, Lyons was particularly excited by its international experience requirement, which included study-abroad, service learning trips with non-profits and immersion experiences. Haas’ restructuring worked to incorporate a similar component in its new curriculum.

“Being good in the global element has sort of become what, in the jargon, people call a high-speed factor,” he said. “It’s something you’ve got to do if you want to play.”

Incorporating this international component is part of Haas’ vision to produce “path-bending, innovative leaders,” through refocusing its core curriculum on critical and analytical thinking and building it from the business school’s culture, norms and values. Its fruition is based on the collaborative efforts of faculty, students and alumni of the school.

While the full impact of this transition remains to be seen, as the curriculum has yet to be completely rolled out, the redirection of Haas’ cultural aspirations was already manifested in the admission process before the May 3 curriculum announcement.

“The hope, of course, is that it improves the match,” Lyons said. “People for whom Berkeley Haas is not the right fit will learn much early on. We wanted to make sure that we got that fit correctly, that people that should be selecting toward us were [doing so] and if others should select toward some other school, that they do that as well.”

He added that this change could be responsible for the 10 percent increase in the number of students who accepted their offer of admission.

Although top-tier business schools such as Haas and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) are often in competition by nature of their high ranking, business schools have a history of drawing from each others’ curriculum changes. Haas’ decision to review the changes made at their fellow universities is not at all uncommon, said officials at Stanford’s GSB.

“Universities are primarily interested in creating the most effective learning experience possible, and often share ideas to build upon and improve curricula,” wrote GSB Dean Garth Saloner MA ’81 MS ’82 Ph.D. ’82 in an e-mail to The Daily.

Stanford’s GSB launched its most recent curriculum update in 2007, and while its development process did consider some of the same elements in place at other institutions, curriculum developers at Stanford ultimately decided to go a different route.

“We always keep an eye on what’s happening at other schools,” said Sunil Kumar, a professor and the senior associate dean for academic affairs at the GSB. “[But] in the end, the task force, while it was cognizant of what happened at other schools, more or less went their own way. [Curricula] come out different because they are trying to achieve different goals and are being done by organizations with different capabilities.”

Implementing the larger host of moving parts in the current curriculum continues to be a struggle for the GSB. For example, according to Mike Hochleutner, executive director of the GSB’s Center for Leadership Development and Research, because many students felt that the first MBA year had a disproportionate amount of requirements compared to the second year, the total graduation requirements were increased and students were afforded more choice in their coursework. This factor, along with smaller class sizes, meant that more instructors were needed.

But these challenges were willingly accepted by GSB officials.

“The demands on the schools’ infrastructure [have] increased,” Kumar said. “[But] we believe we can actually pull this off. We believe that this is a cost worth bearing because it provides a much better educational experience for our students.”

Although there are aspects of the new curriculum that still need to be settled, students and faculty are, by and large, satisfied with the change.

“While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we’ve achieved what we intended to, we are definitely in the direction going there,” Kumar said.

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