Top 10 Scandals & Controversies of 2015

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Business schools: quiet havens of academia, filled to capacity with brilliant, focused professors, highly skilled administrators, and industrious, keenly focused students. So may be the public impression. But if you’re in this world, or peering into it in advance of planned entry, you know this view of the business school environment is only part of the story.

Yes, there are brilliant professors, and talented administrators, and super-achieving students. But as within any slice of humanity, all manner of surprising events arise in these institutions – and 2015 was a banner year for aberrant behavior and controversial statements among students, administrators, and faculty. Now, you can probably guess our No. 1 selection, as the story made headlines all over the world: the lurid expose of Stanford Graduate School of Business Dean Garth Saloner’s affair with a GSB professor married to another GSB professor, and the resulting lawsuit. But there’s far more than sex in this year’s list of scandals and controversies.

Here, you’ll find students at a highly ranked school complaining that the administration dropped the ball in a cheating investigation. You’ll find allegations of racism at another elite B-school, and a very untoward move by the dean of a lower-ranked school. You’ll find prominent professors and the Yale School of Management dean wading in on debates about the state of U.S. business, and university culture. You’ll see who’s squeezing cash out of applicants, and who squeezed an audacious salary out of a school while reportedly helping orchestrate rankings fudgery and a biased journal article.

Tuck's Sydney Finkelstein

Tuck’s Sydney Finkelstein

10. Middle Management Vanishing? Tuck Professor vs Simon Dean
Two outspoken business school personalities, one issue – let the best man win. Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business professor Sydney Finkelstein says technology is driving middle-management toward extinction, and startup culture is adding an extra push. ButAndrew Ainslie, Dean of the Rochester University Simon School, says all you have to do is look around, to see Fortune 500 companies well-stocked with middle managers – and that many MBAs from elite schools who work at major firms such as McKinsey, Deloitte, and Goldman Sachs are in middle-management positions. As for the entrepreneurial realm, lean startup guru Steve Blank believes startups need middle managers, but in redefined roles that make them more responsive and agile, while giving them more freedom.

9. Yale SOM Dean Wades Into Free Speech Fight

Yale School of Management Dean Ted Snyder

Yale School of Management Dean Ted Snyder

Across the country, university students are waging war against gender- and race-based bigotry. Students have pushed to ban controversial speakers and films from campuses. They have called for an end to “micro-aggressions,” socially acceptable slights against women and minorities. Their goal, of course, is noble. But their demands often run up against principles of free speech. Such a controversy exploded at Yale University, when a Yale administrator wrote an email questioning a Yale administration call for students to refrain from wearing Halloween costumes perceived by some as offensive. U.S. universities have become “places of censure and prohibition,” administrator Erika Christakis wrote. Then Yale School of Management Dean Edward Snyder courageously joined the fray, signing onto a letter by 49 Yale faculty members who argued that Christakis’s email was an attempt to spur debate on free speech.