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Cyberspace is all the rage among future MBAs;
Austan Goolsbee leads the way

image: Coursework headerA half hour before the launch of the Graduate School of Business’s new course, Strategy and Entrepreneurship in the Information Economy, students have already staked out seats in Stuart 101. Most of the early arrivals aren’t registered for the course; they didn’t have enough “points” to spend in the GSB’s enrollment bidding system. The guaranteed chance to glean associate professor Austan Goolsbee’s insights into the quickly evolving field of e-commerce went to the highest bidders.

“I tried to get in, but it’s too expensive--it goes for more than 20,000 points, and I only had 12,000,” laments one of the early arrivals, who are trading bets on their chances of getting in. “People are talking about only two things: Goolsbee and the Internet. I don’t even remember the name of the course. I just know it’s Goolsbee and it’s the Internet.”

At five minutes before 2 o’clock, the lecture hall--arranged in ascending rows of swivel chairs and long tables curved around a central well with an overhead projector and chalkboards--fills up fast with nearly 100 students. It’s January 5, so most are busy catching up on what they did over winter break. Dressed in business casual--khaki pants, jeans, oxford button-downs, light wool sweaters--they pull notebooks (the old-fashioned spiral kind) out of Jansport backpacks, black microfiber totes, and at least one designer purse. A few check gold watches.

The chatter hushes as Goolsbee negotiates his way through the two dozen students standing by the door and sitting in the aisles (the room comfortably seats about 65). He finally makes it to the projector, where he sets down his black bag and starts pulling out stacks of handouts. He’s wearing a gray suit, light blue shirt, and maroon and gray tie, but the energy he brings to the room and his lean build, like that of a marathoner, suggest that he might be more comfortable in running shorts and a T-shirt. The few students who enter after him crouch in the back.

“There’s rather obviously more people in the room than are registered for the class,” says Goolsbee to nervous laughter. A ringing cell phone punctuates his comment, and he warns that “it’s probably best that someone turn it off.” Goolsbee then delivers a major bummer to the standing-room-only crowd: he isn’t allowing anyone to audit the class, and he can’t help anyone else register for it. No one budges after this pronouncement, the non-registered perhaps deciding that one lecture is better than none.

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