How Darden Is Putting Charlottesville’s Protest Behind It

The Darden School of Business located at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA. Photo/Andrew Shurtleff


If anything, the crisis brought out the best of this community. There have been candle-lit vigils drawing thousands in support of racial equality, a free music festival featuring Dave Matthews, Stevie Wonder and Coldplay, and this past weekend’s ceLebration of the university’s bicenntenial that drew more than 20,000 to the universtiy’s central grounds in front of the iconic Rotunda build by Thomas Jefferson.

“I want everyone to know this is an amazing place,” insists Beardsley, challenging anyone to look up the murder rates of cities where other leading busness schools are based, whether Chicago or Palo Alto, and compare them to Charlottesville. “Love is stronger than hate and this university will recover strongly. We are rebounding already. It is remarkable.”

If Beardsley can almost sound as protective as a parent in defending the town, the university and the business school, it may well be because he has completely embraced the academic life here. He chose to live in one of the pavilions that flank the expansive Lawn set off by the iconic Rotunda. Each of the homes in this academic village was designed by Thomas Jefferson who spent the last 20 years of his life creating the University of Virginia. Jefferson wanted faculty to live next to students and to teach them in classrooms in each pavilion. Beardsley, the first Darden dean in 15 years to live on the “Central Grounds,” has taught seminars in the basement of his home that once served as slave quarters. He also has promised a ‘Lawn experience” to every Darden student.


So for him, the shock of seeing white nationalists march past his home with Tiki-torches, chanting racist slogans, was something of a personal affront. In the aftermath of the violent rally, Beardsley brought the students together for open dialogues. “We used it as a learning experience,” he says. “Every student, as a global leader is going to face a crisis. The number of things picked up by social media that requires a leader’s attention is going up, and learning how to address them is part of being a responsible leader.”

For Beardsley, only the second of nine Darden deans to come from outside academia, the crisis comes just as he can point to formidable progress against the strategic priorities he set quickly after arriving here 26 months ago.

Among other things, he has raised $13.7 million in new commitments for MBA scholarships, a 70% increase over fiscal year 2016 and a whopping 700% jump over fiscal 2015. From 2015 to 2018, the dean has doubled the discount rate on the cost of a Darden MBA and guaranteed full loan availability for international students.


“My objective,” says Beardsley, “is to make school cheaper, more affordable and more accessible and to help maximize student potential.” Beardsley himself was the beneficiary of an Eastman Kodak scholarship when he earned his undergraduate degree at Tufts University in electrical engineering. “They changed my life. My parents couldn’t afford to pay for anything other than my airplane ticket to Boston from Alaska.”

He believes that one reason fewer students are applying to two-year MBA programs has to do with the escalating costs of tuition and fees at many business schools. “We have to fix that perception. We just had our annual scholarship dinner, bringing together donors with recipients. I am telling you there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. Yet, we’re not even talking about all the people who don’t apply because they believe they can’t afford it.”

Last year, under a newly recruited executive director of advancement from the Brookings Institution, Darden reported its best fundraising year since 1999 when Frank Batten gave the school it’s largest single gift of $60 million. The school brought in $30.6 million in pledges in 2017, allowing its endowment to reach an all-time high of $467 million.


He also has upped the ante on globalizing the school. “I want Darden to be the most global business school in the U.S.,” he says, firmly. “For me, being global is core curriculum. We’re doubling the number of days MBA students spend abroad, and we’d like to double the days again.”

Last year, three of every four students had a global experience in one or more of 36 locations in 15 countries, double the number of students who took advantage of such excursions before. Beardsley himself taught a class in Belgium and Holland, taking 30 students to those countries. He’s also making more financial aid available to MBAs who want to take advantage of the program’s global opportunities. Nine out of the dozen faculty hires he has made have foreign passports.

And he has opened a Darden campus in Washington, D.C., securing a major gift for a new 40,000 square foot facility on two floors of an office tower in Rosslyn, Va., and offering a new section of the school’s Executive MBA program there. led the faculty in a redesign of Darden’s existing Global EMBA and EMBA programs, launched a new dual degree with the university’s Data Science Institute and is waiting on university approval for a joint degree in business analytics with UVA’s McIntyre School of Commerce, its separate undergraduate business school.

1. Attract exceptional students by delivering and enhancing the world’s best, affordable, global education experience.
2. Attract and develop diverse, world-class faculty and staff talent.
3. Advance scholarly research and pratitioner-relevant thought leadership.
4. Expand competitive infrastructure, global brand and network at UVA and beyond.
5. All enabled by expanded resources, outstanding executive education, technology and innovation.