The University of Auckland officially opened its glamourpuss $220 million business school this week. This is not just a purdy building - faculty dean Professor Barry Spicer says it's "a structure for transforming knowledge into wealth".
It is to be hoped that all graduates pop out with their hair on fire and a private equity deal, given the amount of taxpayers' money that has gone into the six-level centre.
For all the talk of private enterprise and entrepreneurship, the business school is as much a creation of post-Knowledge Wave Government largesse as it is of private donors (and even the benefactors are largely colour-me-Labour). Of the $220 million cost, $79 million came from donations, $25 million from the Government and the balance is coming from the university's accounts. There is certainly a build-it-and-they-will-come dreaminess to the whole enterprise which seems to go against what I understood of hard-headed business practice.
As a rule, when you are setting up a venture, the last thing you bother about is flash digs. Hewlett Packard started in a garage; The Warehouse in a warehouse.
Credibility is often measured in inverse proportion to flashiness: Have you seen the London School of Economics' dowdy premises? I can't even remember anything about Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism's building. Shabby chic maybe, but it was the brains inside who made an impression. Academic institutions survive on reputation, and the Auckland business school - its triple accreditation status from the international academic agencies AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA notwithstanding - seldom shows up in any major international survey that measures graduate earnings. So I'd have wagered that what was most important was acquiring the best talent - look at the Waikato Management School's astute move to capture internationally recognised marketer Kevin Roberts - rather than making grand architectural gestures.
If we're competing with the billion-dollar budgets of United States business schools, is anyone really going to be impressed with an MBA from ours because the building has nice carpet?
But what would I know? My degree is in philosophy. And when I studied at Auckland the philosophy faculty was based in a fusty old house that felt like a deceased estate.
To give them credit, the Auckland business school must be good at schmoozing the commercial sector to have raised so much money, but in my own experience the Waikato Management School, Victoria University or even the University of Otago made more of an effort to reach out to contacts such as the business press in Auckland. When it comes to nurturing close town-and-gown relationships, it is a tatty contact book rather than Italianate fittings and glass curtains that count. The new-age building has a lot of glass and is not short of pretentious rhetoric, either. Expect to hear buzzwords such as transformational, inspirational, linkages, connections. They are about as meaningful as the annoying "world-class" affectation used in every single mention of the school. "While buildings alone do not make a great business school, they are a vital part of developing a world-class learning environment," a business school statement concedes.
Still, I should congratulate Professor Spicer on living his dream. He is the education equivalent of a social climber who drives a Maserati but lives in Glen Eden. He has the glitzy toy but where is he, or his replacement, going to drive it? Round the block?