Posted by: trevormeers | August 28, 2011

The Business School Doesn’t Have Recess?!

I can’t shake the feeling that I should be bringing a couple of boxes of crayons and some squeaky new shoes for use in the gym. Can you really go back to school with any less?

I stepped back into a college classroom as a student this week for the first time in 11 years (no, I’m not that young; there was a short experiment in graduate journalism studies around the turn of the millennium). I may carry a PB&J in wax paper for a few weeks just for the security of following the routine that got me through almost 20 years of schooling back in the day. I wonder if they have a fridge in the business college that will sell me drastically overchilled cartons of milk for a quarter?

Me on the first day of my second stab at grad school, rockin' the look that helped me kick off this whole academic thing back in '77.

Returning to campus life for graduate business classes is full of disorienting experiences, some of which are flat-out new rather than just memories gone rusty. I’m not a lot older than the average student in my class, for example, but it’s enough to notice. Especially on days like the Saturday afternoon I went to get my student ID with Allison in tow. I sat in the chair and smirked for the camera in the registration office, trying not to notice that the girl getting me signed in was closer to my daughter’s age than mine.

At the bookstore, I paid for my book titled “Earnings Management: An Executive Perspective,” and the woman behind the counter said, “Would you like a free Red Bull?”

I wondered whether canned stimulants come with every purchase of accounting texts, but I just asked, “Do I look like I need a Red Bull?”

She said, “Not really. It’s a promotion,” and pointed to several pallets of the stuff stacked and waiting for overmatched undergrads who would arrive to buy books a week later. Just to cover the bases, I took the Red Bull, along with a second one when I went back for another book the next week.

Being the overachieving old guy who’s certain to annoy all the students hoping to blend into a crowd of classmates all agreed upon mailing it in, I decided to start reading my textbooks ahead of time. Within the first 10 pages, I learned that while “cooking the books” at a business is illegal and to be avoided, it’s within Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) to engage in “creative accounting,” “hocus-pocus finance,” and “juggling the books.” I’m hoping that I’m just missing the context of this semantic game since I haven’t been at this very long.

But I’m not sure if I should be encouraged or dismayed that the first two classes required of every business grad student deal heavily with ethics. In one of the first case studies, we read about young Peter, who’s feeling conflicted over the way his new boss is asking him to falsify sales records in order to slide things through the corporate office. I can tell already that my cowboy-style, black-and-white worldview won’t prove very stimulating in the group discussions on this front.

Instructor: Can anyone offer some ideas on how Peter can handle this situation? Mr. Meers?
Me: He should quit. You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything. You can’t tell me I’m the only one here who listens to Aaron Tippin songs.
Instructor:
In fact, I can. Thoughts from anyone else?

Pesky moral high ground notwithstanding, I’ll give this program all I have. I’m climbing back up the ivory tower because I’ve discovered that my job involves as much business management as it does writing and editing. It’s high time I get a better grip on what all the people in well-tailored suits are talking about. My employer is willing to help with the tab, and I don’t need an MBA to realize that if someone’s going to pitch in on paying for you to get better informed, you take it.

So at 5pm one day a week, I’ll leave a world of people who put extreme emphasis on color swatches and fonts to learn from people who know why the Sarbanes-Oxley Act is such a big deal (it came up on page 12 of my first book). The transition I’m starting reminds more than a little of a documentary I recently watched about Michael Jordan’s career detour into minor league baseball. Walking away from hoops after three straight world titles, Michael waded into a game he hadn’t played since high school. Other players wondered who he thought he was, acting like he could step into the sport they’d been laboring at for decades to reach the Double-A level. Sports Illustrated printed a cover shouting “Bag it, Michael!” But Jordan labored on. Nike resurrected Spike Lee’s Mars Blackmon character in a commercial where Mars said, “He’s no Stan Musial. But, money, he’s tryin’! He’s no Willie Mays. But, money, he’s tryin’!”

What most people have forgotten about Jordan’s year of baseball is that he got exponentially better over the few months he was at it. Despite looking awful in the spring, he hit .252 in a high-end fall league, and many observers said he certainly would’ve made the majors if he’d kept playing. And while being a one-in-a-million athlete doesn’t hurt, that wasn’t the whole story. His managers said they’d never seen anyone work so hard on their swing, with one of the world’s richest athletes even putting in BP after night games.

I wouldn’t call myself the Michael Jordan of magazine editing (maybe more like the Luc Longley), but I can at least promise that I’ll give this whole grad school thing a Jordanesque level of effort. I may be no Warren Buffet. But, money, I’m tryin’.

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Responses

  1. Nothing wrong with being the Luc Longely of editing….he has rings. I could also see you being the Rik Smits or Jack Sikma of editing.

  2. So if Drake biz school has an over 30 b-ball league, are you going to break out the glasses & red shorty shorts?

    Welcome to the world of academia by the way!

  3. Feel free to swing by the Van Wyk residence if you need an Aaron Tippin pick-me-up. I don’t believe I’m missing more than one or two of his albums. Great sense of school style, BTW.

  4. Love your back to school pic. Your mom probably has a series of them through the years. Be sure and add this one to it!


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