Review: DR Palmer, Management, Santa Clara University Leavey School of Business

At a glance (please read review, as ‘at a glance’ it’s hard to rate professor Palmer)

  • Workload:  Moderate
  • Teaching Style:  Interactive
  • Interest in students:  Moderate
  • Relevance to outside world:  Low

Overall Professor Rating: 2

Overall Course Rating: 2.5

It is incredibly hard to summarize a review on Professor DR Palmer (who is different than Professor David R. Palmer, by the way).  His style is very off-the-cuff, his lectures meandering, and his attention span rather short.  At the same time, he’s the kind of person with whom I’d love to sit down over a couple cups of coffee.  But that doesn’t make for a good professor, really.  The course, too, is hard to rate.  The subject matter is really quite interesting from a research and practical perspective, but the way it was taught, by DR Palmer, made for a lower rating.

The Review

This is the latest of my reviews on the professors I’ve had while an MBA student at Santa Clara University‘s Leavey School of Business. There are lots of sites out there that provide feedback and rates – ratemyprofessor is the most notable. The SantaClaraMBA Yahoo group also has a big database of comments and lots of additional information in its message archive. That database can be a bit hard to wade through, and the comments are short and often just link to other threads, which are themselves pretty short and superficial. Only here can I write as much as I want  🙂

I review professors from a variety of perspectives.  First, I explain the context(s) under which I took the class.  Time of year, time of day, etc.  Then I talk about the quality of the class and the professor, and finally about the professor as a person.  After all, we are trying to learn about our interactions with people, so knowing that side of a teacher is critical, too.  So these would be interactions outside the classroom, etc.  I also just write whatever it is that I think is relevant or will be helpful to others.  That is my overall goal.

I’m also reviewing them in reverse order of when I had them for class.  This is mostly so that I am reviewing those whom I remember the best sooner.  This also means that at some point I might skip a few professors I took a year ago or just stop outright out of concern that I will not be able to provide a proper review (the downside of these longer reviews is that I do, after all, have a responsibility to do a good job at them). As of this writing, which is summer quarter 2008, I’m now going back to Fall 2007, so it’s a ways back.

The facts

I took Management 503 – Organizational Theory – back in Fall of 2007.  I have no idea what time I took it or what days of the week :-).  The course is loosely based on how companies are organized, how communications are handled within such structures, etc.  This is one of the required courses in the management track – basically, you need this and 501 and you can take everything else.  Interestingly, I have seen few of my 503 classmates in my other classes.  This is weird because one would think most people would get 503 out of the way relatively early in their coursework (as I did – my third quarter), and I should therefore run into them again later.  So far, I don’t think I have, though.

Them’s the facts. Now read on for the review.
The class
I’m actually going to start with the course mechanics, because they give a good foundation upon which I can then build up a very confusing and shaky house.  The course basically had four parts – weekly quizzes on the chapter readings, participation, an organizational biography (not sure if that’s what it’s called, but see below and you’ll get it) and a quarter-long group project.

The group project was potentially interesting, though I was not happy with how my particular group worked together.  Basically, you pick an organization – a particular division at Cisco, a small start-up, whatever – and you analyze its organizational structure and make recommendations.  You look for gaps and holes based on the theories in the book as well as examples in class, identify that should change, what shouldn’t, etc.  Pretty straightforward, really, but you need a good group because you need to do interviews up and down the organization, which means you need buy-in from a lot of people.  Apparently these have gone so well in the past that one former student came in and asked if any group was interested in analyzing his department – his supervisor had actually asked him to solicit for it.  Potentially a very fruitful and educational project.  Potentially.

The organizational biography, as I call it since I can’t remember its actual name, is basically drawing your own organization’s organizational chart and examining it from multiple perspectives.  Who controls the money’  Who knows whom through non-traditional means’  What is the formal structure’  Where are the dotted lines’  Where do you want to go in the organization, and who are the ones opposing you and the ones that will support you’  This was actually quite illuminating, without much qualification.  My only wish is that Professor Palmer gave us more of an idea of what we were supposed to do than the example he showed us a week or two before it was due.

The readings and quizzes are what annoyed me.  We had a chapter to read each class session, upon which we were quizzed.  The reading material was interesting and I really enjoyed it, but we never, ever discussed the chapters in class so it didn’t stick all that well.  Plus, with only 10 questions on the quiz, it’s easy to get a relatively low score.  Enough quizzes where you get 3 or 4 questions wrong and suddenly your quiz component of your grade is dragging you down.

That is one of the major complaints – Professor Palmer made a point about how he was going to explain the grading system only once, and I think he did so to avoid the conflict it would generate as the quarter progressed.  There is too much weight put on the quizzes, participation is hard to gauge (see below for in-class interactions), and the group project’well, I thought we did a good job but we got a B and that didn’t help.  Overall the grading is confusing.

The most frustrating part of the course, however, is the actual in-class interaction.  Basically, students argued with Professor Palmer.  They did not debate, they fought with him.  They would argue over the most trivial of items on quizzes, even on questions that were literally seeking definitions that could be found word-for-word in the book.  Professor Palmer seemed to welcome this as ‘stimulating’ conversation and we’d go all over the place.  Suddenly, we hadn’t covered any of the reading material, we had nothing to go on for the next quiz because we hadn’t talked about the next chapter either (one time he literally ended a class with ‘okay, look at this topic, that one’skip that one, and that’s it,’ telling us what would be on the quiz), and all of that interesting stuff, the actual material of the course, was left to the side.  It was incredibly frustrating.

To top it all off, because I did not want to engage in what I truly felt were distracting arguments with Professor Palmer on topics without substance (again, it seemed like arguing or even petty fighting rather than debating), I did not always engage myself.  I still think I participated my share, but when I asked for clarification on my overall grade and was told I had gotten a very low grade on participation, I was shocked.  Apparently, we are supposed to fight with the professor.  It didn’t matter that every time I spoke I used material from the readings we were supposed to have done.  I just didn’t think it was a well-managed course in the room, and it was a terribly designed one overall.

In fact, the material is interesting enough that even having just done the reading I feel I gained a great deal.  But the way the course was actually taught dragged the score down.  So 503 by itself, just reading the book, is probably a 3.5 by itself (seriously, this is interesting stuff).  Taking 503 with Palmer dragged it down a point.

The Person

It’s hard to know where to start with Professor Palmer.  Many people describe him as a ‘Drucker guy,’ meaning that he ascribes to the teachings of Peter Drucker, one of the major players in the development of management as an academic topic.  Honestly, I don’t think he quoted Drucker that much.  I certainly didn’t feel overhwelmed by it.

People also say that Palmer gives you a lot of good information about your career.  Where to go next, what to do with an MBA, what to say to a manager, etc.  Yeah, he gives some, but none of it is mind-blowing.  If any of what he said for my section was surprising, then I think my classmates should probably spend more time on their own thinking about what they want to do with their careers.  They probably have not spent enough time on that as of yet.  Yes, I know that a classmate might be reading this and I truly mean no offense, but I can’t remember a single thing he said that was truly helpful, even if I were to be moving into corporate.  I even created a little ‘Palmer Moments’ section in my OneNote pages for when he would say something off-topic but meaningful and almost never put anything there.

I won’t get into the course again here too much, but obviously a course that is that unstructured, that ignores truly compelling readings that egregiously, and has such meaningless arguments that often is a reflection of the professor.  So there’s that.

Some Metrics

Metrics are of questionable use, depending on professor and what classes I have and haven’t taken.  But they might be of interest so I’ll do what I can.  These are more like ‘comparisons’ than metrics but I like the word better :-).  Some rough parameters are:

  • Workload:  runs from heavy, which would be work in class, after class, individual and team, to just a lot of problem sets to basically just in-class discussion.
  • Teaching style:  spectrum runs from pure-lecture to interactive to all-over-the place.
  • Interest in students:  pretty obvious
  • Relevance to the outside world:  pretty obvious, though heavily restricted due to my background in academia

Workload:  Moderate
The group project and organizational bio is a lot of work, actually, but if you really want to just forget about the readings and wing it, it’s not necessarily a lot of work.  And, more importantly, it’s not like you had to retain anything anyway since it was never covered again.

Teaching Style:  Interactive.
Well, he did talk with us back and forth a lot.  So technically it’s interactive.

Interest in students:  Moderate.
Honestly, I don’t know if he cared that much.  I doubt he cared much about us learning the material since he never really covered it.  But I don’t think he was there just to pick up a paycheck or fill in time between consulting gigs, either.

Relevance to outside world:  Low.
The material in the book is highly relevant.  The course – with all the arguing and meandering – Not really.