• 09 Jan 2006
  • What Do You Think?

Should More Transparency Extend to Education for Management?

The pros and cons of grade disclosure is a hot topic at business schools these days, including Harvard Business School. Should students have to disclose their grades to recruiters? And how does this issue connect to the need for greater transparency in business generally?
by James Heskett

Summing Up

Questions concerning grade disclosure, voluntary or not, elicited a great deal of response from those readers exposed to every facet of the issue. Opinion on the immediate issue of disclosure was evenly divided. But a third group was composed of readers favoring the disclosure only of grades providing some evidence of possible future success on the job. They raised the most provocative questions for all of us to continue to ponder.

Cheri Thomas led the opposition to disclosure, commenting, "Yikes, what an awful idea! . . . Grade disclosure would exacerbate it [grade grubbing] to an intolerable level." Erik Holmberg questions the spotlight that disclosure would place only on grades when he says: "I know many people who were academic superstars who are also the worst managers I have ever met . . . Disclosing grades would place a greater weight on grades than is necessary. . . ." Rakesh Seth, arguing that "at the MBA level there should not be any grading system," said, "whoever is admitted has already passed through certain filters, such as the GMAT . . . ." Sandi Edgar added, "The mere accomplishment of obtaining an MBA serves as a successful recruiting tool; disclosing the grades required to get there is not necessary."

On the other hand, many respondents believed that transparency in management should extend in some form to the educational process. In advocating grade disclosure, John Inman said, " . . . this [master's and doctoral work] is when we focus our passion, and this work should reflect our abilities in a chosen field." As Robert Downing put it, "I suspect that most employers do not use grades as their sole hiring criteria. However, grades might help distinguish between two otherwise apparently equal applicants." Anshu Vats expressed his enthusiasm by commenting, "If revealing the students' grades leads to an increasingly competitive classroom, great! Welcome to the meritocracy."

Others were more cautious, suggesting other challenges for educators, recruiters, and students. Manohar Kamath put it this way: "We need to extend transparency. If grades do not predict work performance, then there is a problem in the design of management education." Michael Robbins wrote, "We need schools to lead the way to valid indicators of executive performance. . . . Before revealing grades, academics should reveal the utility of grades!" Deepak Alse commented: "Accountability and transparency have no areas for exceptions. Real learning cannot happen in the absence of these two factors. However, current evaluation methods in B-schools are flawed because they fail to account for the fact that management is less about writing and analyzing and more about getting things done!"

What's the problem? Are grading methods broken? If so, what could be done to fix them? Or is any information about academic performance better than nothing in the hands of knowledgeable recruiters when it comes to transparency? And what is the net effect on the educational process of grade disclosure? What do you think?

Original Article

Disclosure of grades to recruiters and others has been an important topic of discussion on several business school campuses this fall. At Harvard Business School, 87 percent of the MBA student body, according to one poll, opposed the administration's decision to allow the voluntary disclosure of their grades by individual students, presumably to organizations in which they might be attempting to secure jobs.

Among other things, students argued that even voluntary disclosure would: (1) pressure everyone to disclose their grades, (2) lead to competitive behaviors injurious to the learning process in the classroom, and (3) place too much emphasis on one dimension of behavior whose predictive reliability of future performance is dubious at best. Administrators maintained that voluntary disclosure: (1) leaves the matter up to the individual, (2) will allow outstanding performance in a particular course (which would go unrecognized if it did not lead to more general "honors" recognition) to be disclosed to other interested parties, and (3) would create subtle pressures that would raise the quality of preparation for, and involvement in, class discussion and other academic activities.

The issue may be seen by some as one of a general category related to transparency in business. In recent years, the predominant practice among leading business schools has become one of voluntary disclosure. It is certainly one favored by recruiters seeking all the information they can about prospective job candidates. And it can be argued that it offers students with highly variable grades the opportunity to disclose selectively only the best of those grades to recruiters who might have the most interest in them, a practice that might be regarded as relatively harmless academic "spinning" of information.

One can argue that those preparing themselves for management will have to face the "judgment day" of public knowledge of their performance at some time in the future, although public knowledge rarely extends very deeply into an organization. But is the management classroom the place for increased transparency? Not only might non-disclosure foster a more cooperative classroom culture, but it can also be argued that it shields poorer performers from the glare of at least semi-public knowledge of their academic performance while they are attempting to hone their skills. Interestingly, few executive education programs of which I am aware provide any kind of post-course evaluation to the participants' sponsoring organizations. Most schools resist all requests for such information.

Should the quality of the educational process be the primary concern in the debate over grade disclosure? If so, what are the effects of grade disclosure, even voluntary, on the process? Are there other, more important ways of injecting greater transparency into the educational process? For example, should more emphasis be placed instead on the measurement of performance of entire schools, faculties, and graduates? Or should the issue of transparency even be extended to education for management? What do you think?