The Case Method at the Harvard Business School: Papers by Present and Past Members of the Faculty and Staff

By Malcolm P. McNair | Go to book overview

Foreword

Because of the ever-growing interest in the case method of instruction and research in business administration, I welcome the publication of this volume. This book is addressed particularly to teachers and academic administrators who have wondered what the case method is and how it is used at the Harvard Business School. In some part it is addressed also to students, who in many instances encounter difficulty in making the transition to the case method from other, more usual methods of instruction. In the broader field of the general application of the case method, this volume should serve the same useful purpose as the one edited by Kenneth R. Andrews last year devoted particularly to the use of the case method in the teaching of human relations.

For more than thirty years the case method of instruction has been one of the major distinguishing characteristics of the educational program of the Harvard Business School. The seeds of this development were originally planted during the administration of Edwin F. Gay, the first Dean of this School. These seeds did not grow and flourish, however, until my immediate predecessor, Dean Wallace B. Donham, took office in 1919. Dean Donham's training in the law and his own wide business experience gave him the conviction that the case method was the sound approach for instruction in the Harvard Business School. His inspiration and enthusiasm stirred members of the Faculty to undertake the arduous pioneering necessary to make a success of this new and daring educational venture. Dean Donham recognized that the development of the case system for teaching business would be a slow and expensive process. The law schools had the decisions of the courts, the medical schools had hospital cases and clinical records, and the scientific schools had their laboratories and records of experiments. In contrast, there were nowhere any records of the process of making business decisions. Therefore the development of the case system in the Business School had to take the slow and hard way; in fact, to borrow a word from the late Lawrence Henderson, it had to take the "pedestrian" approach. This was true literally as well as figuratively, because those who gathered cases had to go out to the businesses themselves to record the actual situations.

-vii-

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