What’s Wrong with the Writing?

By Laura Huang, Assistant Professor, Wharton

The Wall Street Journal recently posted an article entitled “What’s Wrong with Wharton?” (Sept. 27, B1).  While I could sense that the author, Melissa Korn, has likely been sitting on this clever, alliterative title waiting for a story, the material that was finally fit to it failed to live up to any real takeaways.  The biggest question it raises is rather: ‘What’s Wrong with this Writing?’

I am as big a fan of well-written, well-researched journalism as anyone, especially articles that tout the honest positives and negatives of high-quality business education.  Back in the day, as an MBA student myself, I wrote a series of articles as a contributor to the Financial Times about my experiences at INSEAD. Constructive criticism of education is needed and can be very effective. The difference with the WSJ article in question however is that it was written with the intention to provoke rather than educate.

I could start by mentioning the fundamental holes in the journalist’s arguments, or point out that the first published version of the article stated that GMAT scores are out of a possible 750 – when anyone, anyone with the slightest authority on evaluating business schools would know that the GMAT is scored on a scale of 800.  I could also point out that the article’s implicit premise is basically that the top 5 business schools trade places in rankings in any given year – which, without evidence of any displacement in this cycle, suggests to me that nothing is actually fundamentally wrong with Wharton, and rather we are just observing another cyclical pattern.

The article states that Wharton is not as innovative, entrepreneurship-focused, or tech-savvy as other top business schools, but curiously fails to mention that Wharton sends more students to Amazon and Google than any other business school, including Harvard. As a faculty member in the Entrepreneurship group, I noticed a complete omission of any mention of Wharton’s campus in San Francisco, the home of a full range of initiatives, courses, and programs that support the entrepreneurial objectives of Wharton students and alumni, not to mention all the entrepreneurial activity between the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel, Temple, and the growing technology and investment scene here in the city of Philadelphia.

As one of the commenters of the article insightfully mentioned, Wharton was the world’s first business school, and was actually founded by an enthusiastic, serial entrepreneur, Joseph P. Wharton, in 1881. Since then, Elon Musk, C’97,W’97 (Tesla), Jeff Weiner, W’92 (LinkedIn), Farhad Mohit, WG’96 (Shopzilla), Jeff Fluhr, W’96, E’96 (StubHub), Nat Turner, W’08 (InviteMedia), Brett Hurt, WG’99, (Bazaarvoice), Neil Blumenthal, Dave Gilboa, Jeff Raider, and Andy Hunt, WG’10 (Warby Parker), Robert Goergen, WG’62, (Blyth, Inc.), James David Power, WG’59, (JD Power and Associates), Jon Huntsman, W’59, (Huntsman Corporation), and hundreds of other alumni, have created and built successful companies.

Clearly Ms. Korn failed to mention or interview any students for an article that claims that “students say it has lost its luster.” What we would have heard instead, would be students who state that – doing something entrepreneurial seems to be in the water…, that there has been a 43% increase in Wharton students accepting full-time and internship roles at startups, and that Wharton was the only MBA school invited by Kleiner Perkins to participate on a panel for their portfolio companies about university hiring.

The Wall Street Journal has built an article on a few shaky snippets, and for that, it clearly puts people on the defensive.  Perhaps there are some folks at the Wall Street Journal who might benefit from a Wharton MBA.


Laura HuangBio: Laura Huang is an Assistant Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.  Professor Huang’s research examines early-stage investment decisions, and how perceptions and cues influence an individuals’ ability to make important, high-stakes decisions.

One comment on “What’s Wrong with the Writing?

  1. Although ostensibly addressing an erroneous portrayal of Wharton, I think your most useful point is how journalism has deteriorated into linking and enlarging snippets of information instead of investigating subjects thoroughly. Thanks for that, Laura, and Wharton may actually be defining what is truly “next” in business education: people who can really do something in the world.

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