Student Newspaper Slams GSB Dean

Jonathan Levin, dean of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business

Stanford University’s student newspaper is highly critical of Graduate Business School Dean Jonathan Levin for his response to the school’s being caught misrepresenting its financial aid program. In an editorial published today (Dec. 5), the newspaper slammed Dean Levin for what it called his tiptoeing around the school’s failure to acknowledge that it has long provided financial support that is not need-based despite claims to the contrary.

The editorial, written by Adam M. Behrendt ’19, urges Levin to commend the MBA student who blew the whistle on the financial aid practices and use what has become a significant embarrassment as a teachable example to business school students.

It was MBA student Adam Allcock who tapped into the data in February of this year from a shared network directory accessible to any student, faculty member or staffer of the business school. In the same month, on Feb. 23, Allcock reported the breach to Jack Edwards, director of financial aid, and the records were removed within an hour of his meeting with Edwards.

EXISTENCE OF THE DATA BREACH WAS PUBLICLY DISCLOSED BY DEAN LEVIN

His in-depth analysis of the information he discovered, however, found that Stanford had routinely granted fellowship money to students without regard to their financial needs, often favoring admits who were female and those from the financial sector, even though many had more savings than students who received no scholarship help or less financial support. His 88-page report, not including an extensive appendix, also found what he termed “systemic biases against international students…This is inconsistent with a need-based financial aid system,” he wrote.

The existence of the report and the data breech was first disclosed by Dean Levin in a Nov. 17th email to GSB students, staff and faculty. Levin wrote that “there is no excuse for this compromise of privacy and security, and I intend to do everything possible to ensure that it does not happen in the future.” He also acknowledged that the school misled applicants about its financial aid policies and has since apologized for the data breech—but not for misleading applicants and students about funneling scholarship dollars to those who would not have demonstrated financial need.

“The data security issue features prominently in the University’s official response,” noted the editorial. “But the greater failure is one of integrity. The leadership at Stanford Graduate School of Business was caught lying about its commitment to “need-based” financial aid, which it has been doing for more than a decade. Yet this is only mentioned in paragraphs 12 and 14.

‘INEXCUSABLE ANYWHERE, BUT IT IS WORSE THAT IT HAPPENS AT A SCHOOL THAT TEACHES ETHICS’

“Integrity should feature more prominently in Stanford’s official response, as it should in campus discussion more broadly, especially at the business school.

“University leadership knowingly misled students, donors and alumni, misrepresented its business practices and compromised Stanford’s reputation. This would be inexcusable anywhere, but it is worse that it happens at a school that teaches business ethics.

University employees take full and specific responsibility for unsecured data, but for lying to students, nothing; this response suggests data security is more important than integrity.”

Yet Dean Levin tiptoes into the more significant issue,” claims the Stanford Daily editorial. “‘I would like to comment on Stanford GSB’s historical financial aid practices, because despite problematic circumstances around the data access, the student’s report raises an issue we intend to address.’”

‘A MISSED OPPORTUNITY TO RIGHT A WRONG’

The editorial takes the dean to task for failing to more openly address the misrepresentation of its financial aid policies and take full accountability for them.

“For clarity, the whistleblower is not at fault for analyzing unsecured data; the leadership at GSB is in hot water for what the analysis shows: ‘The GSB has misrepresented and advertised its financial aid system to the detriment of students who make tangible financial decisions on the basis of these representations. Students with identical financial situations receive vastly different GSB fellowships awards [sic] and without any knowledge can graduate with up to an additional $80,000 of debt …’

“Dean Levin concludes, ‘I believe that a preferable approach, going forward, is to be significantly more transparent about the principles and objectives being applied in making financial aid awards, and about how different awards are being made.”

This is a missed opportunity to right a wrong and begin repairing Stanford’s reputation.

“A more preferable approach, going forward, is to fully own the integrity issue, commend the whistleblower for his work and professionalism and use this as a teachable example.

To do less is a (second) failure of leadership.

“Integrity should come first.”

DON’T MISS: STANFORD MISLED MBAS ON FINANCIAL AID or CONFIDENTIAL DATA EXPOSURE WIDER THAN EARLIER REPORTED AT GSB

About the Author...

John A. Byrne

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.