Wednesday, December 10, 2014 at 3pm

Rotman Withdraws Inappropriate Business Case Study: MBA News

Rotman withdraws controversial business case study

The University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management has been forced to issue an official apology for handing first-year MBA students a backward-thinking business case study, whose protagonist appears to have been loosely based on Reese Witherspoon’s character in Legally Blonde.

The business case – an integral teaching tool used on a majority of leading MBA programs around the world – was criticized for its portrayal of a female character obsessed by designer shoes who turns to her lawyer-in-waiting boyfriend for career advice. The school has said that the character was inspired by popular culture and parallels have been drawn between the “Elle Forest” of the business case study and Reese Witherspoon’sElle Woods” in the Legally Blonde movie.

The case study upset several Rotman students, one of whom leaked a copy to the media. The Rotman School has since moved to quell the negative attention by issuing an official apology:

“We deeply regret issuing the assignment and are committed to an inclusive culture at the Rotman School where all students can reach their full potential. The assignment unfortunately did not reflect the standards and commitment to diversity that are core beliefs at the Rotman School and the wider University of Toronto community. The assignment has been retracted and will not be used again,” reads the school’s statement.

What are the effects of inequality in a case study?

At a time when many leading schools are actively seeking to achieve better levels of gender equality in the MBA classroom, the role of teaching materials has a bigger role to play than you might imagine. In a feature earlier this year on TopMBA.com, an INSEAD graduate discussed the knock-down effects of having too few female role models in business case studies, stressing the importance of how female characters are described.

The business case in question was issued to full-time MBA students taking a first-year finance class in capital markets taught by Kent Womack last week. Womack has also apologized unreservedly, but said that the case study had been put together by an unnamed teaching assistant.

Mixed feedback over Rotman School’s reaction

Reaction to the school’s handling of the matter has been mixed. On the one hand, there has been praise for the school’s willingness to raise its hands and admit to getting something wrong, for instance from one former teaching assistant at Rotman:

“Like organizations they make mistakes but what really matters is that they showed that they were leaders by saying we’ve made a mistake,” Pamela Jeffery told Globalnews.ca.

However, one unnamed student was disappointed that the school’s initial reaction to the concern caused by the business case was to try and keep it in-house, due to worries over the potential effect it might have on its public image:

“Rotman actually does do a million things to enhance women. This could be an opportunity for the institution to talk about that but, again, for whatever reason it’s been ‘clam up — form a defensive position’,” the student told the Toronto Star at the weekend.

The fallout since then has at least allowed Rotman to make some amends and to highlight the school’s work in encouraging and supporting women in business through its Initiative for Women in Business and the student-run Women in Management Association.

Rotman’s full-time MBA class of 2016 is 32% female – a slight rise on the year prior – and the school retained its position as the number one business school in Canada in the eyes of MBA employers and business academics in the QS Global 200 Business Schools Report 2014/15.  

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Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).


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