Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Ambition and Abuse

Several months ago I read and enjoyed Peter Robinson's Snapshots From Hell: The Making of an MBA, an account of his experience at Stanford Business School.

It was similar to my law school days ("Look to your left and look to your right. One of you won't be here next year.") and caused me to wonder if some energetic psychology student has tackled the obvious question of why ambitious and, in many cases, highly accomplished people put up with abusive treatment in graduate schools.

I know this doesn't apply to all circumstances. A friend of mine who got his doctorate in government remembers a process that was prolonged and demanding but not demeaning. It is rumored that many law schools have become kinder and gentler although that may be only a modest adjustment in light of their Darwinian past. Perhaps business schools have had a similar mellowing.


But back to the point. People pay chunks of money to have an enormous amount of work piled on them as they navigate an environment that can be reasonably described as uncaring and even cruel. Throughout it all, the cadre of ambitious students meekly accept this treatment. It is a form of "customer service" that would spark a riot if attempted anywhere else. 

Robinson's book does provide an example of a meeting where, after some bad publicity, the opinions of the MBA students were sought. Once asked, they let loose with both barrels.

My guess is that's rarely the case.

Looking back, I can recall a second year law student who, after being berated in front of the class by a professor for neglecting to read a case, replied, "Don't chastise me. I told you I didn't read it." A collective gasp was heard. That brave soul dropped out a few days later.

That's a shame. He probably would have made a fine lawyer. He was certainly far more courageous than the other residents of the system he escaped.

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