Thursday, January 17, 2008

Professional Schools in the University: Lessons Learned

A good analysis of professional schools is Rakesh Khurana, From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007). This may be the best and most detailed analysis of any professional school, tracking the nature of the business school from the late nineteenth century to the present. Khurana, who is on the faculty of the Harvard Business School, chronicles how these schools have been critical to giving legitimacy to management as an occupation and then a profession with a distinct body of knowledge, a sense of expertise, professional autonomy, and an ethos of service (all concepts rooted in the Progressive era of a century ago giving birth to many other disciplines such as library science). Khurana reveals how the past century has witnessed business schools struggling with their identity and mission, buffeted by changes in society, business, and the role and influence of the federal government and major foundations such as the Carnegie and Ford. The author is particularly concerned with the demise of the professionalism model with an emphasis on knowledge generation, codes of conduct, and the ideals of service to a focus on wealth accumulation, competition among the schools for rankings, shifts by the schools to stressing their social capital value (how going to a particular school better positions an individual for career advancement and other success) rather than any notion of a public good, and, ultimately, the loss of a “historical metanarrative of management as a profession” (p. 368). This is a compelling, if long, story about the role of professional schools in society and universities, with lots to offer as comparison to the transition from library schools to library and information science schools, to I-Schools.

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