Stanford: What’s All The Fuss About?

Stanford University Graduate School of Business - Ethan Baron photo

Stanford University Graduate School of Business – Ethan Baron photo

Many more staffers apparently would have signed the letter to the provost if not for fear of retribution by Saloner. “Given previous breaches in confidentiality, staff no longer trust the anonymity of the annual employee survey or the integrity of the process,” the Group of 46 wrote. “As a result, many employees choose to not complete the survey or they simply submit “safe” responses. The GSB’s director of HR has been repeatedly made aware of many of the violations we describe, but appears unable or unwilling to take appropriate action to uphold University policies.

“While we are concerned about our colleagues, we are equally concerned about the School’s liability and reputation. Multiple staff members have been repeatedly berated by the current GSB leadership, undermined in their leadership roles, and publicly chastised for actions they were previously asked to perform. They have been forced out of roles and denied promotion opportunities for positions that were never formally announced or posted in accordance with the University’s HR policies. Many of the staff members who have left their jobs under duress are active alumni of the School and the University. Their stories and concerns are reaching fellow alumni and will reach a broader network of friends and colleagues over time.”

If those allegations were true, why did the provost reappoint Saloner to another five-year term?

The university claims that it “took a number of steps” in response to the “Group of 46” letter, including inviting members of the group “to submit fuller details of their individual situations and experiences,” says Stanford spokesman Brad Hayward. “The University then initiated an outside review of those cases. The review did not find age or gender discrimination.” The issues raised in the letter “arose largely out of a restructuring of the GSB’s centers,” Hayward says. “The review did identify some areas where the school could make improvements, and those findings were communicated back to the school, which has been following up on them.”

Etchemendy says he had surveyed staff in November 2013 before deciding to give Saloner another term, and found only two faculty members beside Phills who expressed unfavorable views on Saloner. “One was pretty negative and, and one said it was time to move on,” Etchemendy says in the deposition. After receiving the letter, Etchemendy met with representatives from the 46 signatories, he says. However, during Etchemendy’s deposition, a lawyer for Saloner and Stanford prevented him from answering any questions about what Etchemendy had discussed with the signatories’ representatives beyond Phills, and Etchemendy said they hadn’t talked about Phills. Etchemendy says in his deposition that he shared the letter with Stanford president John Hennessy, but the lawyer stopped Etchemendy from answering when Etchemendy was asked if Hennessy gave any instructions or guidance in the matter.

Asked whether he had followed up on allegations that Saloner exercised bad judgment, Etchemendy said, “This is an allegation of poor judgment because he has entered into a relationship with a faculty member who is separated from her husband, and I think that that’s, that’s their, their judgment . . . What would there be to investigate?”

Your story also brought up issues about the student culture at Stanford. How it that related to these other allegations?

Two years ago, one of Stanford’s most prominent veteran professors published an essay slamming the shallow, hedonistic culture of “booze, cars and houses” at top business schools. He devoted a quarter of his critique to the annual overnight FOAM trip to Vegas (which stands for Friends of Arjay Miller) tradition as the starting point for the corruption of the culture at the school.

“Business school,” wrote Jeffrey Pfeffer, “has become way more about the parties than about the course work. What happened to the classes, to academic performance, to learning something? If and when business schools become more like many of their professional school brethren—where status comes primarily from academic/professional accomplishment, not from who can hold the most liquor or put on the best show . . . the culture will change for the better—from booze, cars, and houses to ideas.”

Many people believe that the dean came in hoping to dampen down the excessive partying at the school, but faculty say he caved on that, not wanting to incur the wrath of the students whose opinions factor into the rankings. If anything, the school rolled back a change to make the MBA program more rigorous by requiring a higher percentage of mandatory courses. When students complained, Saloner “caved” in the words of one faculty member. The new heavier requirement, among others, had been put in place partly because an earlier survey of students by the school found that its MBA candidates felt that their graduate level courses at Stanford were not as intellectually rigorous as their undergraduate experience.

Under Saloner’s leadership of the school, one MBA student has been charged with vehicular manslaughter for killing the driver of another car in an accident in which the MBA was allegedly driving in the wrong direction on Route 101 under the influence of alcohol. Two MBA students who went on the FOAM Vegas trip had a threesome with a prostitute in their Bellagio suite, according to police records. Later, the female MBA accused her boyfriend of sexual assault in the business school dormitory. Though the district attorney did not pursue the case, Saloner allowed the male student to continue attending class while his alleged victim remained on campus. The male student was suspended after the university found the male student was responsible for committing violence against the female student, leaving her with small bruises, and broken capillaries on both sides of her neck.

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