U.S. News Ranking: The Deans Respond

US_News_Grad_2014_3_12_13“Act like you’ve been there before.”

That’s a maxim every football coach preaches. When you score, don’t dive, dance, dunk, or yap. Just hand the ball to the official and jog back to the sideline. When you’re good, touchdowns aren’t a big deal, coaches say. Anyway, it takes 10 other guys to get into the end zone. Don’t hog the spotlight!

Business school deans certainly embody this mentality. Whether they’re afraid of riling up rivals or looking foolish, deans were relatively subdued after the release of this year’s U.S. News rankings last week. You’d expect top deans to slap high fives as they took a victory lap. Instead, their media people just churned out graphics with copy like “Region’s #1 Business School” (with a self-serving definition of ‘region’).

You won’t hear any name-calling or finger-pointing from b-schools, either. This is academia, not congress (or law school). Whether they jumped or dropped 10 spots, many schools didn’t bother to issue a press release. And when they did, the deans used the same clipped, cliché-ridden, milquetoast statements from the days of Amos Alonzo Stagg. Most didn’t even bother to tweak U.S. News’ ranking formula. For the most part, it was fluff couched in MBA speak.

And maybe that says something too. Unlike law schools, clamoring for attention amid declining enrollments and hiring, MBA programs are sitting pretty. Maybe online programs and non-degree options will barrel through the smaller state and private programs. For now, starting pay is rising at many top schools, with applications up and acceptance rates down. You could call this a golden age, a calm before the storm perhaps. And maybe that complacency explains the measured responses to the rankings in student newspapers and emails to faculty and students.

Deans have mastered the art of not really saying anything, which often says something profound about school culture and status. So what’s really behind their statements? Here is how Poets&Quants interprets their responses (in a tongue-in-cheek fashion):

Dean David M. Szymanski, University of Cincinnati (Lindner) (Leaped 39 spots)

This is really fantastic news. These improved rankings speak to the quality of our graduate programs in delivering top-tier business education. The recent revamp of our MBA programs has attracted better students and led to better results in terms of student placement and starting salaries upon graduation.”

Our Take: You jump 39 places and that’s the best you can do? Really? Do you know how many schools envy your performance? If I were in Dean Szymanski’s shoes, I’d climb to the top of Lindner Hall and shout, “I’m going to Disneyland!” Also, here’s a piece of advice: When you say that revamping your MBA curriculum has helped you recruit “better students,” you’ve basically insulted your alumni. Good luck in your next capital campaign.

Dean Roger D. Huang, Notre Dame (Mendoza) (Rose 4 Spots)

“We certainly welcome the news that our ranking has improved. But as with all rankings, this serves as an opportunity to thank our MBA staff, faculty, alumni and students, whose continued dedication to excellence is responsible for setting our program apart.”

Our Take: Pure class. Instead of hyping their rank to potential students, Huang ties it to the Mendoza community’s quality and effort. Stakeholders want to see progress and recognition for their work, and Huang delivers on both. He certainly sounds serious about boosting engagement, raises and grants — all good things.

Dean Amy Hillman, Arizona State (Carey) (Rose 3 Spots)

“We’re happy the new rankings confirm we’re achieving consistent excellence here at the W.P. Carey School of Business. “We have a phenomenal group of faculty, staff and students who repeatedly boost us to the top, year after year.”

Our Take: The top? You’re ranked #27. That’s a 6 seed in the NCAA tournament (with a match-up against upset-minded Maryland). Oh well, you’re 21 spots ahead of Eller for bragging rights. In the end, isn’t that what really matters?

Karen Hopper Wruck (Senior Associate Dean), Ohio State (Fisher) (Rose 3 Index Points)

“Our graduate offerings reflect Fisher’s excellence across a wide range of fields in business. We are proud to be recognized among top programs, and remain dedicated to Ohio State’s mission of advancing from excellence to eminence.”

Our Take: “From excellence to eminence?” Well, someone likes alliteration more than I do. Guess it beats “from renown to ruin” or “from dysfunction to distinction.”

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