September 2, 2014 5:57 pm

Boston University bets that jam today means change tomorrow

Kenneth Freeman

Amid growing concerns that business schools are no longer fit for purpose, the school of management at Boston University is working with IBM to launch a 60-hour online “jam” session that dean Kenneth Freeman hopes will produce constructive and concrete ideas for change.

“In academia I have heard a lot about the challenge in the business school environment,” says the former industry executive, “But [there has been] no real effort to bring all the constituencies [academia and recruiters] together.” One of the biggest issues in industries that need to change, says Prof Freeman, is that the people involved have first to acknowledge the need for change, and in business schools resistance is putting the industry at risk.

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More than 50 VIP contributors have signed up to the event, including business leaders Jeanette Horan, managing director of IBM Corp, and Michael Wright, chief information officer at McKinsey, as well as business school professors, deans, students, alumni and journalists from around the world. Representatives from the international accreditation bodies will also participate.

The jam session will run from September 30 to October 2 and will be structured around 10 themes, such as fostering ethical leadership and challenging the business model. Boston’s dean expects that the issues of technology and funding will form part of the discussion.

Prof Freeman says that the impetus for the jam has been the acknowledgment that the relevance of business schools is being challenged by employers – he points to a 2013 Gallup Poll in which 89 per cent of business leaders said that recent graduates do not have the knowledge they need to be successful in their careers.

He adds that the reach of business schools is not sufficient and the respect in which business education is held is low. “We have to be more nimble, more creative,” says Prof Freeman.

As well as providing the technology to host the jam, IBM will use its data analysis expertise to help produce a white paper on the future of business school. Prof Freeman says this should be available within a month of the jam and believes the session should provide concrete ideas for change.

“If we look the same as we do now in 20 years' time, we will be out of business, or deserve to be out of business.” he says.

Assuming that the jam is successful the Boston dean believes this could become an annual event, to help promote continual change.

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