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'Apprentice' sparks classroom discussions

By Kelly Gyenes

Donald Trump stars in the hit television show that has business school students talking.

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(CNN) -- Business school professors are tapping into "The Apprentice" by using the hit reality show to get their students' attention.

Donald Trump, who serves as one of the show's executive producers, stars in the program that challenges job candidates with tight deadlines and difficult tasks as they try to avoid the boardroom where their roommates compete for the one job at stake.

At American University, adjunct professor Patti Lewis encourages students in her Principles of Marketing course to watch the show.

"In the course of our normal lecture and marketing project work, I, from time to time, will refer to situations in the show as examples of what is being addressed," Lewis said. "We have really good discussions, not about the show, but about the issues being enacted in the show."

Lewis cited a particular episode of "The Apprentice" that provided her class with a real-life example.

In the second episode, the two competing corporations were tasked with developing an ad campaign for Marquis Jet, Inc. The men's team, Versacorp Corporation, did not meet with the client before creating the ad campaign.

In a recent phone interview with CNN, Ken Austin, executive vice president of Marquis Jet Partners, Inc., revealed that Versacorp Corporation had in fact called and made an appointment to meet -- but then canceled.

Austin said he basically asked them, "Excuse me? Are you kidding me?" "That's the cue that ... you basically lost the game before you even started," he said.

At the University of Washington in Seattle, Management and Organization Department Chair Thomas Jones teamed up with lecturer Laura Schildkraut after she proposed the idea of a course called "Management Lessons from 'The Apprentice.' "

The two-credit course filled up quickly with about 80 students and had a substantial waiting list, Jones said. Though Schildkraut and Jones effectively co-teach the class, Jones' section fulfills the undergraduate honors seminar requirement taught each semester.

"We are looking at the events in the series as a ways to open discussions about management decision making, as opposed to business truth as dispensed from Donald Trump and Mark Burnett," Jones clarified. He said that they are using the series to make examples more vivid.

My intent is to probably use five or six episodes more or less in their entirety to stage the issues, Jones said.

George Ross, who serves as Trump's senior counsel, agreed to a 30-minute teleconference with the students of the class to answer questions about business, not the show, Schildkraut said.

"It's entertaining, but the thrust of the class is to separate the entertainment value from the educational value," Jones said.

But Jenny Chatman, professor of organizational behavior at the Haas School of Business of the University of California-Berkeley, said she thinks the show is too artificial to be used in the classroom to be able to draw many useful conclusions.

"People aren't in the job, so they don't have the long view," she said. "What this does is it only enables Trump and his advisers to evaluate people's skills in terms of how quickly they think on their feet for very, very short term kinds of tasks."

"The power balance is really not reflective of what happens in organizations," Chatman also emphasized. "In truth, Donald Trump would be almost as dependent on his apprentices as they would be on him."

Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University, agreed. Though the show can be entertaining and offer a few lessons, "You should no more watch 'The Apprentice' to learn about American business as you should watch 'ER' to learn how to do emergency surgery," he said.

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