Ross Dean To Step Down After One Term


Alison Davis-Blake, the dean of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, today (May 18) said she plans to step down from the job once her first five-year term ends on June 30, 2016.

“After much consideration and consultation with my closest advisers, friends, and family, I have decided that I want to turn the focus of my professional service to the broader problems and opportunities facing universities,” she said in a memo to the Ross community.

Her four-year tenure as dean has been somewhat controversial, especially among the school’s old guard faculty. Since her arrival in 2011, several of Michigan’s academic stars left the school, including Karl E. Weick, a world renown organizational behavior expert, and Claes Fornell, one of the most influential academics in customer satisfaction measurement, and Robert Kennedy, who had been executive director of the school’s William Davidson Institute, a leader in research into emerging market economies.

It’s unclear whether her decision not to seek a second term was at least partially motivated by faculty complaints to the university administration about her leadership style. Since the start of her term in 2011, the top two leaders of the university–President Mary Sue Coleman and Provost Phil Hanlon who hired Davis-Blake–have since left their jobs.


During her stint as dean, Ross’ full-time MBA program has had something of a roller coaster ride. The school’s ranking has improved to 11th among the best U.S. MBA programs in Poets&Quants’ composite list from 13th when she arrived at Ross. But in 2012, the school’s acceptance rate for its full-time program hit a record high 40.6%—well above any other prestige public university business school. The spike was caused when the school shut down its co-signer loan program for international students. Ross admitted more candidates to offset the expected decline in offers from admits who decided not to go to Michigan because of the loan issue.

While Ross has since brought its acceptance rate down to 35.9% last year, it is still higher—if not substantially higher—than Berkeley, UCLA, Virginia, Texas, and Indiana University, even though Michigan has reduced the size of its class to 447 last year from 502 in 2012. Ross was the only U.S. school in the Top 50 that failed to provide acceptance data to U.S. News & World Report for its latest annual ranking published in January. Applications to its MBA program last year fell to 2,443 from 2,647 a year earlier.

An MBA in last year’s graduating class told Poets&Quants that today’s news is “bittersweet.” “She did get a lot of money and helped cut down the class size but she was never very engaged with the students,” the alum said. “I never saw her come down from her office to shake a hand in the Winter Garden and ask how the classes were going. Her involvement with the section leaders was minimal and mostly patronizing.”


She took over the deanship of Ross at a difficult time. The school was in the red, largely a result of the then still lingering impact of the Great Recession which forced two of the big three U.S. automakers in Detroit into bankruptcy. The economic mess particularly wrecked havoc with Ross’ executive education business, which insiders say, saw revenues plunge from roughly $30 million annually to close to a low of $11 million. Because Ross’ exec ed profits go entirely to the school, the collapse of those offerings plunged the entire institution into a deficit. In her memo, Davis-Blake said her team has restored the school to a “healthy financial position” after a 70% increase in executive education revenue and a return to the school of nearly $3 million this year.

Davis-Blake noted that the 2015-2016 academic year would mark her tenth year as a business school dean at both Ross and the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. “During the past decade, I have learned that I particularly enjoy working with faculty, staff, and students to stabilize challenging situations and then create momentum towards extraordinary positive performance,” she said.

“Together, we have created that momentum at the Ross School. Beyond the business school realm, there are significant challenges that face all universities, in both professional and liberal education. I find myself eager to contribute solutions to these larger challenges during what will surely be a time of significant change in higher education.”

The dean said she was letting the Ross community know about her decision a full year earlier “to facilitate an orderly dean transition that will allow the Ross School to maintain its positive momentum. I have discussed my decision with Provost Martha Pollack, who will convene a search committee to select the next dean. I am confident that, with your help and support, Provost Pollack and President (Mark) Schlissel will be able to conduct a very successful search.”