SOM overhauls academics

The Yale School of Management will implement a new interdisciplinary core curriculum next year as the first step toward a new style of management education that the school hopes to pioneer, following a unanimous faculty vote on Wednesday.

The new core curriculum — which will be implemented this fall for the incoming SOM Class of 2008 — is based on an interdisciplinary model that eliminates classes teaching discrete subjects. Instead of traditional classes such as finance and accounting, next year’s students will take classes taught in three different modules, each incorporating aspects of traditional management courses relevant to a specific practical area of management.

“There’s a lot of anxiety over the state of management education because of a fundamental disconnect between what management education today teaches and what leaders of organizations are looking for, and that is people who are able to independently identify problems, frame those problems in a larger context and draw together the resources necessary to solve them,” SOM Dean Joel Podolny said.

The three modules — “Orientation to Management”, “Organizational Perspectives” and “Integrated Leadership Perspective” — all seek to bridge that gap.

The six-week “Orientation to Management” sequence provides the foundational knowledge necessary to identify and frame problems, including classes on basic economics and accounting, data and decision analysis, and team effectiveness. The 12-week “Organizational Perspectives” module explores problem-solving with a view to the multiple constituencies a manager must address, such as the investor, the competitor or the employee. Students will also participate in a two-week “International Experience” in January, followed by the last six-week “Integrative Leadership Perspective”, which merges the skills they have mastered in a series of interdisciplinary cases.

Faculty members said a number of challenges remain, such as the development of new teaching materials required and the implementation of the new curriculum. Fried said he foresees specific difficulties in communicating the new interdisciplinary curriculum to prospective students and employers, because the public is accustomed to thinking of business schools in terms of certain areas where they are known to be strong.

“People associate University of Chicago’s business school with finance, Harvard’s with leadership, Kellogg with marketing,” Fried said. “It’s going to be really hard for Yale to brand itself in a way that encapsulates how dynamic and unique the new curriculum is, because you don’t want to end up known as the school with the funky curriculum. We need to stress that we’re trying to revolutionize education.”

While he acknowledged that the new curriculum is a radical departure from what is taught at contemporary schools of business and management, Podolny said he thinks this is the right curriculum to be following.

“Everybody today’s talking interdisciplinary, but they’ve been talking interdisciplinary for decades,” Podolny said. “This will be difficult to execute, and the faculty all know that this will take them out of their comfort zone, but the logic of this is very compelling, and our small size will be a tremendous advantage for us in executing and delivering this curriculum”

SOM professor Art Swersey, who helped formulate the new curriculum, said the faculty is highly supportive of the change.

“You can sense how faculty and students respond personally to the dean, and to the innovative nature of this new curriculum,” Swersey said. “I got tremendously excited close to the end of the dean’s presentation. There’s an excitement on all sides that I think will make this work.”

SOM professor Jake Thomas, who also assisted in the curriculum’s development, said the faculty were introduced to the curriculum gradually so as to ensure their receptiveness.

“We spent time doing a series of one-on-one meetings with the faculty, and they knew we’d been working on this since last September, so none of this was a surprise in that sense,” Thomas said. “The presentation the dean made incorporated suggestions from the faculty as well, which helps them feel comfortable supporting it.”

The vast majority of students who spoke during the question-and-answer session following Podolny’s presentation expressed support for the new curriculum. SOM Student Government President Spencer Hutchins SOM ’07 said that while the new information might take a couple of days to sink in, student responses are generally positive.

“This is something that could transform not only the school but management education at large,” Hutchins said. “Almost every business school out there is trying to do something like this.”

Student Body Representative Josh Fried SOM ’07 said that despite the initial shock of the changes, many current students prefer the new curriculum to the form of management education SOM currently provides.

“As I was leaving I hung around for a couple seconds to catch the buzz and heard a couple first-years say they wished they could start over again next year,” Fried said. “I think we all feel a little sad that we’re not in the Class of ’08.”

The core curriculum was presented to students at a meeting held Wednesday night at SOM.

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