Disasters of Master’s

The previous post, following my usual falderal, drew your attention to an article from the Times. It, in turn, drew your attention to the poisoned fruits of the M.B.A. tree, particularly the one spreading its venerable branches in Harvard Yard.

Harvard Business School alumni include Stan O’Neal and John Thain, the last two heads of Merrill Lynch, plus Andy Hornby, former chief executive of HBOS, who graduated top of his class. And then of course, there’s George W Bush, Hank Paulson, the former US Treasury secretary, and Christopher Cox, the former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), a remarkable trinity who more than fulfilled the mission of their alma mater: “To educate leaders who make a difference in the world.”

It just wasn’t the difference the school had hoped for.

Boy, we sure hope they weren’t hoping for.

I wonder, while we’re on the topic, if the point can’t be extended beyond M.B.A.’s. There are two other master’s fields which I think deserve some scrutiny. They can’t really be held quite as directly responsible for our current mess as the Master of Business Administration programs to which Mr. Broughton alludes. But, on balance and from personal experience, I strongly doubt that they’ve done the culture much good.

The first is in Fine Arts. I’m admittedly relying here primarily on remarks from a few working artists I’ve met and other second-hand info. You have to allow for the inevitable exceptions, of course, but my own general impression is that, to the extent that M.F.A. programs have aided and abbeted the notion that things like dunking a peeled pig’s head in formaldehyde constitute acts of artistic creation, they’re guilty of perpetrating a very pretentious form of fraud.

In the case of education, I feel a bit more sure of myself. Graduate work in education can’t be, I suppose,entirely worthless, and there are surely programs that deliver on their promises. Most of the time however, the M.Ed. is just an exercise in hoop-jumping and salary chart-climbing. The number of master’s degrees awarded in areas like Diverse Multicultural Learning Styles from institutions like the Online University of the Canary Islands is an insult to whatever is left of the tradition of higher education. And the Canary Islands too.

M.Ed. programs have contributed handsomely to the volume of half-baked and misleading research in the field.  They’ve helped shoehorn a legion of deluded and timid administrators into shoes that they aren’t competent enough or willing enough to fill.

And, if anybody cares, not many students are being helped by the whole charade either.

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