Darden: Where Great Teachers Are Gods

Student evaluations of each professor and course are treated with the utmost respect. “The course feedback that students give is taken very seriously,” says Evan Smith, a second-year MBA student at Darden. “They are getting 90% to 95% of the students to fill our course evaluations every quarter, and the feedback loop is tremendous. When a course gets a bad evaluation, we hear and we see the professors going back and regrouping. They immediately try to figure out how to improve it. The professors here take the craft of teaching very, very seriously.”

Indeed, those evaluations—done on the very last day of class–show just how good the quality of teaching is at Darden year in and year out. Over the five-year period from 2007 to 2011, students awarded Darden profs median evaluations of 4.55 in first-year core and elective courses and a 4.58 in second-year electives. Though Allayannis’ student evaluation grades average out to 4.8, he has scored a perfect 5.0 several times, especially for his elective course, Valuation in Financial Markets.


MBA student evaluations of Darden faculty and courses

And then there are the numerous awards, fellowships and grants to bring prestige and prominence to great teaching. Most schools have a token teaching award, but Darden clearly piled on the recognition. There’s the Darden Faculty Marshall award given annually to two professors who the graduating class believes have played a “significant role in our learning and our life and who we would really want to se when we return as alumni.” Last year, Robert Landel, who teaches operations, and Alexander Horniman, who teaches ethics, strategy and leadership, were chosen, breaking Allayannis three-year hold on the award in 2010, 2009 and 2008.

There’s the Faculty Teaching Award awarded annually by student vote. Last year, Landel got that one, preventing Allayannis from winning this honor for the third consecutive year. And there’s the Distinguished Faculty Awarded handed out by the alumni association, which Allayannis did win last year.

There’s the Dean’s Office Recognition Award for professors whose combined course and teaching effectiveness student ratings are in the top 10%, along with the Dean’s Recognition Lunch for professors who have earned the most teaching recognition awards over the previous four years. None of this includes several university-wide teaching awards.

At Darden, however, teaching is not only a classroom sport. It also is played out in how accessible the faculty is to student needs and wants. All faculty adhere to an open-door policy for students who often are invited to the homes of professors for dinner and an occasional poker game. “I can’t count on two hands the number of times I have been to a professor’s house for dinner or other events,” adds Evan Smith. “Professors here love to get to know their students very personally.”

Allayannis, a colleague and their wives, for example, typically auction off a brunch at their home for students who bid at an auction whose proceeds benefit a local women’s shelter. And he often counsels students who want to work on Wall Street or more generally in finance given his experience at Citibank.


Back in class on Monday morning, after a Sunday snow storm blanketed the campus in white, Allayannis is pushing and challenging his students.

“Do you guys remember where you were that weekend, the weekend that changed Wall Street?” he asks.

The professor tells his students that he was visiting his family in Greece and was on his way to the beach when he heard the news.

Answers one student rather lamely: “I can figure out where I was.”

“That’s a cop out,” Allayannis shoots back, unsatisfied.

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