More Operations Research in the News, but not in a Welcome Way

Fabrice Tourre, “the fabulous Fab”, who is at the center of the Goldman Sachs scandal, is a 2001 graduate of Stanford University. That, in itself, is no surprise. Stanford has a top ranked business school that does about as well as the rest of us in graduating ethical MBAs (by that I mean MBAs who do, on the whole, try to act ethically, but some of whom find ethical challenges … challenging), so it is not surprising that a powerful Goldman Sachs person would come from there. But what is surprising is that Fabrice’s Stanford degree is a Masters in Operations Research! Our field is in the news!

Thinking about it, it is not so surprising. Since Fabrice is reported to be 31, a 2001 graduate would have been 22. Most business schools like to see at least a little work experience, so 22 year-olds with an MBA would be quite unusual. A Masters in Operations Research would be more common, I would think.

I can’t tell if the fabulous Fab did anything wrong, let alone illegal, but this does bring up an issue in training. At business schools, we are working hard to think about how to include ethics and other aspects of corporate social responsibility into the curriculum (with varying levels of success). What are operations research programs doing to ensure that their masters graduates are aware of the choices they make? Checking Georgia Tech, Michigan, Stanford Management Science and Engineering (is there still an MSOR from Stanford?), and Cornell (not to pick on them, but to pick a few of the best programs out there), does not lead one to believe that ethics, corporate responsibility or a traditional “engineering professional responsibility” course is part of the masters curriculum.  This is not to suggest that we are putting out a generation of unethical lying optimizers, but perhaps we should rethink the balance of our programs.  I do believe operations research to be outstanding training for a wide variety of careers:  going beyond linear and integer programming into some of the challenges of the real world would be a good direction to go for the sake of the students, and for the rest of us.