WU business school aims to be near the top

Making it near the top as a business school in today's collegiate market isn't easy. One must compete with Harvard, Stanford, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Kellogg School at Northwestern. Yet over the next 10 years, Washington University will try to move into this league.

The undertaking will be expensive. Good business professors demand two or three times the $30,000 salary of a humanities professor. Business profs are also on the move -- as WU found out recently when a top-flight finance instructor left for a New York investment banking firm after only a few semesters.

Despite these trials, the school, now housed in the new $14.5-million John E. Simon Hall, has doubled its faculty, attracting luminaries such as Murray L. Weidenbaum, former chairman of President Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers.

One of the first moves WU has made is to start an MBA program for mid-career executives -- one that is already drawing attention in corporate circles.

The school already has decided not to overemphasize the ``glamor'' fields of finance and investment banking, preferring to make its reputation through a strong program of basics: accounting, marketing, production, and management -- as well as finance. If an MBA program could be compared to a football team, WU's would emphasize line play and blocking, rather than a razzle-dazzle backfield. ``We want to be strong up the middle,'' says WU professor James Little.

Dean Robert Virgil wants students to combine applied business practice with a strong course of business theory. ``Intellectually,'' he says, ``the business school should be at the center of the college.'' Mr. Virgil is working to see that students approach business from a broad, interdisciplinary base. ``Students need a background in political science, technology, and economics'' in order to be effective in today's business world, he says.

The school has also distinguished itself as the founder and host of a nine-college consortium that gives fellowships to minority students working to advance in business. ``There still are few blacks to be found in levels above middle management,'' says Virgil.

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