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At Michigan’s Ross School, The Departing Dean Gets Poor Grades From Faculty

Ross dean Alison Davis-Blake speaks to female deans' group in 2015

Ross dean Alison Davis-Blake speaks to a female deans’ group in 2015.

LOW SCORES COMPARED TO PREDECESSOR 

That she drove hard changes and rooted out preferential treatment is certainly one explanation for her poor faculty ratings. The faculty data from the previous dean, Robert Dolan, shows much higher scores. For example, Dolan never had median scores below 4 points for the prompts “This dean actively promotes an environment for scholarly excellence,” or “This dean actively promotes an environment for teaching excellence.” In the category of inspiring confidence in his leadership, Dolan never received a score of less than 3.56 — higher than Davis-Blake’s highest score of 3.21 in her first academic year of 2010-2011.

Some of the dean’s supporters allege that a small group of disgruntled faculty members mobilized to sink Davis-Blake’s grades on the faculty survey, which goes to the provost’s office. Except 58 faculty members — a little under 33% of the total faculty — completed the survey last year. Only four other University of Michigan-Ann Arbor units had 58 or more faculty members fill out the survey, and Davis-Blake is at the bottom of those schools as well.

WIDE-SCALE CULTURAL, SALARY AND EVALUATION CHANGES

Hopp says the results could stem just as much from more transparent merit-based salary evaluations and salary adjustments. According to Hopp, many faculty members who hadn’t published or taught more than one course in decades were asked to carry higher teaching loads or their salaries would reflect their limited appearances in the classroom. “I can tell you there were some people that were really quite unproductive but had been highly rewarded in the past,” Hopp says. “And when you put in a highly objective, fact-based review system, it comes to light. And they don’t do as well as the old smoky-room-and-handshake situation.”

In addition to asking teachers to teach, Hopp says, the dean implemented a new way to evaluate faculty members. Previously, an executive committee evaluated each professor on research output, teaching evaluations from students and service to the school. Then each professor was awarded a number. “Those numbers basically went into the ether,” Hopp explains. “They were never communicated to faculty. You never knew how you were rated. All you got every year from the dean was a letter saying, ‘Thanks for all of your stuff, your salary is X.’ Not even, ‘Your raise is this percent.’ Just ‘Your salary is X, you can compute your raise if you want.'”

Hopp and Davis-Blake built a new evaluation based on research, teaching, service, and practice on a 5-point scale. An executive committee rated each faculty member and produced an average for each category. “What that did was show whether you’re above average in teaching, below average in research, and your average in service,” Hopp notes. “You could see that relative to the rest. And I’m not sure people liked that very much.”

Next, Davis-Blake consulted faculty salaries at peer schools through the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Hopp says many faculty members had salaries “out of whack” on the high end compared to competitor schools. So they “made a number of adjustments to people’s salaries,” he says. “We tried to put some discipline into that whole salary process,” he adds, noting, “Alison is the antithesis of the 100 deals for 99 faculty.”

ALLEGEDLY AT ODDS WITH STEPHEN ROSS

Still, for every faculty member who has bombarded Poets&Quants in support of Davis-Blake, there have been stories of unfair and harsh evaluations — many coming from long-term and influential stakeholders at the school. One involves Noel Tichy, a Ross professor and one of the top management consultants in the country. Tichy has been a professor at Ross since 1980 and previously told Poets&Quants of allegations of unfair auditing of his center. “I think Noel felt like Alison was really out to get him,” one faculty member close to the situation tells Poets&Quants. Tichy could not be reached for comment.

Upsetting a faculty member or two is one thing. Riling the University of Michigan’s most generous donor is another, which is exactly what one senior professor close to the situation believes Davis-Blake did. According to that faculty member, when Stephen Ross gave his second $100 million to the Ross School in 2013, Davis-Blake had differing ideas on how the funds should be spent. First, to complete the proposed project, which included improvements to existing facilities and creating new facilities, it would take an additional $65 million, the source says, including $10 million to build a monument to Ross.

Davis-Blake apparently asked Ross himself for more money and suggested scaling back the project. “She said, ‘You’ve got to give us more money.’ He said, ‘I’m not going to give you more money.’ And she said, ‘We’ve got to cancel the project then,'” the faculty member tells Poets&Quants. “In other words, she pushed Steve pretty hard. He wouldn’t commit more money.” Ross has donated a total of $313 million to the University of Michigan — more than any other single donor. He did not respond to requests for comment.

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