The Backlash At Wisconsin Begins

Anne Massey assumed the deanship at Wisconsin School of Business on August 7. She spent nearly 21 years at Indiana University in the roles of professor and vice provost

Less than three months after taking on her first deanship at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Business, Anne P. Massey is quickly finding herself in the middle of a major controversy at the school.

In an email to students, the school revealed last Wednesday (Oct. 18) that it is seriously considering a proposal to shut down its full-time, two-year MBA program in order to devote greater resources to potentially more lucrative specialized master’s degrees. Already, alumni are organizing a petition addressed to Dean Massey and the school’s faculty to urge them not to close the program. As of 10 p.m., nearly 700 business school and university alums, students and even parents have signed the online petition.

Among other things, the critics are urging the dean to “maintain and improve the full-time program rather than dissolve it for lower-intensity MS degrees.” The petition particularly notes that as a public university, Wisconsin has a duty to provide affordable education to students. “We hope you consider the mission of public education as you make this decision. As one of the oldest and most prestigious public universities in the nation, the University of Wisconsin provides a stellar education for students of all backgrounds. We believe that a public MBA is an essential ladder for future business leaders who may not have the financial means to attend the Harvards of the world.”

The quick response by hundreds of alumni and the vehemence of their opposition suggests that if the school goes ahead with its proposal to shut down the MBA its decision could negatively impact future alumni fundraising efforts.

‘CAPITULATION SHOULD NOT BE AN OPTION’

The school made public the proposal to get out of the full-time MBA market in an email sent to students by Associate Dean for MBA Programs Donald Hausch. The school later posted online a vague statement on its action. “Higher education, like business, is in an unprecedented period of accelerated change along several dimensions, including technology, globalization, and the changing expectations of students at all levels,” according to the statement. “To advance our standing as a top business school, we must respond to this reality.”

The decision was something of a surprise, particularly because Wisconsin’s previous dean had won plaudits for the introduction of what had been thought to be a fairly innovative approach to MBA curriculum. Massey, a long-time professor at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, succeeded Francois Ortalo-Magnes on Aug. 7th. Ortalo-Magne, now the dean at London Business School, may have achieved a lot — including a much-ballyhooed overhaul of the curriculum — but nevertheless saw Wisconsin MBAs’ three-month employment rate drop from 91% when he took over in 2011 to to 88.2%. Meanwhile, despite his emphasis on the importance of rankings, during Ortalo-Magne’s term WSB failed to rise, going from 24th in 2011 to 30th in 2016 in Poets&Quants’ composite rankings.

In addition to the petition opposing the closure of the program, signers of the online document are adding their own comments highly critical of the school’s proposal now being reviewed by faculty, which is expected to vote on the issue in November. “I still cannot fathom why a school known for its pioneering spirit would even venture to do this. I understand innovation and adaptation to meet changing needs, but capitulation should not be an option,” wrote Oladipo F. of Wisconsin.

‘A SHOCKING AND ILLOGICAL PROPOSAL’

“This is a shocking and illogical proposal,” added Richard M., who described himself as a graduate of the Center For Arts Administration in 1981. “The cost in contributed income will likely more than offset anticipated savings, not to mention the damage to the reputation of the School of Business. The cost in contributed income will likely more than offset anticipated savings, not to mention the damage to the reputation of the School of Business.”

Another alum echoed the petition’s concern about the loss of an affordable MBA program from a public university. “An MBA degree should not just be for students who can afford to attend elite schools,” wrote Heather G. of Wisconsin. “Alumni of the WSB MBA programs have made a positive difference in the world, as have the faculty who support the full-time MBA program. For this and so many other reasons, I feel it is essential to maintain the full-time MBA program.”

The petition was even signed by someone representing a company that employs students from the school. “My company recruits heavily from UW, and I anticipate this decision impacting both our graduate and undergrad recruiting,” wrote Michael H. in California. “This program is critical to the growth of the Wisconsin economy and growth in job opportunities,” added Fred R. of Wisconsin.

A DIFFICULT MEETING THIS WEEK FOR DEAN MASSEY

The petition and the comments are likely to be a harbinger of a difficult meeting this week between Dean Massey and the students. In his email last week, Hausch invited students to a town hall meeting to discuss the plan with Dean Massey.Compared to many of Wisconsin’s peers, the school has generally done little to market and promote its MBA program in recent years. The latest entering class of MBAs totalled only 104 students, with comparatively low representation of both international and female candidates. Non-U.S. students make up only 18% of the latest intake, while women represent just 30% at a time when many of the elite MBA programs in the U.S. now enroll more than 40% of their classes with women and more than a third of their classes with internationals.

The school’s MBA program also plunged seven places in U.S. News’ ranking earlier this year to place 34th from a much more impressive 27th a year earlier. Among major public universities with full-time MBA programs, Wisconsin is now behind Minnesota, Washington, Ohio State, Arizona State, Indiana, UNC, Texas, UCLA, Virginia, Michigan and UC-Berkeley.

The proposal to shut down the program comes on the heels of an announcement in August by the University of Iowa to shutter its full-time MBA program. Iowa’s program at the Tippie School of Business entered an incoming class of just 54 students his fall. The program had been in the red for years on a $3.5 million budget. With state appropriations falling and budgets tight, it no longer made sense to pour resources into the tiny program. Earlier this year, no less, Tippie’s U.S. News’ MBA ranking plunged 19 spots ito 64th from 45th. It was the proverbial perfect storm.

IOWA’S DECISION TO CLOSE DOWN ITS FULL-TIME MBA MAY HAVE GIVEN COVER TO WISCONSIN

As reported earlier by Poets&Quants, as a business school in the Big Ten, Iowa’s decision has been something of a wakeup call to many in the MBA market (see Will Tippie Be The MBA’s Tipping Point?) In the aftermath of that decision, Tippie Dean Sarah Gardial has gotten a surprising reaction from some rival deans. They’ve quietly conceded they have been grappling with the same issue and that her decision may help them deal with the political consequences from alumni, students, and faculty of ending their own money-losing MBA programs.

The backdrop to Gardial’s decision was three consecutive years of declining overall applications to two-year, full-time MBA programs in the U.S., a drop that would have been far more severe if not for the rising number of applicants from abroad. But even that offset has disappeared in the wake of anti-immigration rhetoric and a President who has made many would-be immigrant students feel unwelcome in the U.S.

The petition reads as follows:

Dear Dean Massey & Wisconsin School of Business Faculty:

As alumni of the Wisconsin MBA program, we hereby advocate that you elect to maintain and improve the full-time program rather than dissolve it for lower-intensity MS degrees.

We were taught that in order to grow a successful organization, you must invest in it for the long term. By choosing UW for our MBA, we have invested in the network, academic rigor, and reputation of the school. As higher education markets evolve, we ask that you also invest in this program.

In economics, we learned that business decisions often impact parties not directly involved in the transaction at hand, a concept called an “externality”. We urge you to consider the external effect your decision will have on the graduates of the WSB MBA program — those of us who are proud of our degrees, have benefitted from the education the Wisconsin MBA provided, and wish to maintain the reputation of the degree and the network we have invested in.

Finally, we hope you consider the mission of public education as you make this decision. As one of the oldest and most prestigious public universities in the nation, the University of Wisconsin provides a stellar education for students of all backgrounds. We believe that a public MBA is an essential ladder for future business leaders who may not have the financial means to attend the Harvards of the world.

In 2016, the U.S. News & World Report ranked us #1 in Return on Investment. We could not agree with their assessment more strongly: as alumni we have built companies, innovated new products, and risen to the top of organizations in all industries. We support the University of Wisconsin and advocate for it in the real world. We look forward to giving back, and providing UW with a high Customer Lifetime Value.

We all see the value in continually updating and modernizing the full-time MBA program, but we disagree with the decision to discontinue the degree.

Thank you,
Wisconsin MBA Alumni

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