That didn’t last long. Wisconsin Business School announced Tuesday (December 19) that Dean Anne Massey will step down at the end of the month after less than six months on the job.
Wisconsin is Massey’s first deanship. She came to the school in August, a highly sought-after hire after 21 years as professor and vice provost at Indiana University. But in a move that has come to define her tenure — and that ultimately will be seen as the cause of its untimely end — the school announced in October an immediately controversial 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.
The backlash was swift and harsh, with hundreds signing a petition to stop the move and a vocal contingent of current and former students and faculty vowing vociferously to fight it. A week after news broke of the proposal, Massey announced that it was dead, and that the Wisconsin MBA program would live on.
But her deanship had been wounded, and the announcement this month that she would step down indicates she never recovered the confidence of the students or staff after the misstep. She is expected to take on a teaching role in the school’s Operations and Information Management Department.
WISCONSIN MBA SLUMPS IN RANKINGS
University of Wisconsin-Madison Provost Sarah Mangelsdorf announced that an interim dean will be selected in the new year and a permanent dean will be named after a search that begins in Fall 2018. Massey will begin teaching in the Operations and Information Management Department in the Spring 2018 semester.
On paper, a proposal to eliminate the Wisconsin MBA may have made sense to a newly arrived dean with little to no experience with students or alumni. Massey joined a program that, compared to many of its peers, has done little to market and promote its MBA program in recent years. The latest entering class of MBAs totalled only 104 students, with non-U.S. students making up only 18% of the latest intake and women representing just 30%. This 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.
Meanwhile, the school’s MBA program fell seven places in U.S. News & World Report’s ranking earlier this year to place 34th. 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 in the U.S. News ranking.
Wisconsin’s proposal to shut down its full-time MBA program came on the heels of an announcement in August by the University of Iowa, another Big 10 school, to shutter its full-time MBA program, and indeed Wake Forest and Virginia Tech have also eliminated their full-time MBA programs in recent years. An annual survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council found that applications for two-year MBA programs dropped for the fourth straight year in 2017, with nearly two-thirds of schools reporting declining applications.
A SWIFT BACKLASH AND URGENT BACKPEDAL
But if Massey thought the Iowa Tippie announcement — coming just a couple weeks before her school’s — would provide some cover for Wisconsin to drop its MBA, she was soon disabused of the notion. The fact is, Wisconsin’s School of Business is in a different place than Iowa — not, like the home of the Hawkeyes, just another unranked and undistinguished school with a commoditized MBA program impacted by declining applications and lower-quality students. Though applications to Wisconsin’s full-time MBA program were down in the most recent year, they were actually higher — by a healthy 15% — than the number of applications received by the school for the years from 2010 to 2014. The average GMAT score for the latest entering class of 104 MBA students is 678, up a healthy nine points from 669 a year earlier. And though the Wisconsin MBA has fallen to 34th in the U.S. News ranking, the school still can boast having one of the top 1% of all MBA programs in the world.
After the full fury of the Wisconsin Business School community was leveled at Massey and the proposal to drop the MBA program, the new dean quickly backtracked, acknowledging the community’s rejection of the idea and urging unity in moving forward. “We have heard from our community of students, alumni, and friends,” she said in a written statement. “Therefore, we are going to stop further discussion of the one-year suspension of the full-time MBA. We moved too quickly without the broad consultation and discussion that our stakeholders can and should expect.
“We will move forward with discussions on how to grow the undergraduate program and expand the graduate portfolio while simultaneously strengthening the full-time MBA experience. We will be inviting members of our community to help guide those discussions and be part of our efforts.
“We value the input of our community and will invite our stakeholders to be part of discussions regarding the future direction of WSB.”
FOCUS GOING FORWARD IS ON ‘STRENGTHENING THE FULL-TIME MBA PROGRAM’
But it was too late, as Tuesday’s announcement makes clear. The complete text of the school’s announcement on Massey stepping down:
“University of Wisconsin-Madison Provost Sarah Mangelsdorf has announced that Wisconsin School of Business Dean Anne P. Massey will step down as dean and join the faculty at the conclusion of the semester.
“Chancellor Rebecca Blank and Provost Mangelsdorf have reiterated their commitment to developing a vision for the Wisconsin School of Business that will grow from the collaborative strategic planning process focused on expanding and building new programs and strengthening the full-time MBA program. This process will continue alongside the search for a new dean and will include input and consultation with governance and stakeholders.
“Massey will begin teaching in the Operations and Information Management Department in the spring semester. Senior Associate Dean for Faculty and Research Barry Gerhart will help lead the school effective December 31, until an interim dean is selected in consultation with Wisconsin School of Business faculty and staff. A permanent dean will be named after a search that will start in Fall 2018.
“’Anne has shared with us her plans to join the faculty, and we look forward to her contributions at UW-Madison. I appreciate her energy and commitment to our students, faculty, and staff,’ says Mangelsdorf.
“’We will share updates through all-school and all-alumni messages as we have more information on next steps,’ she adds. ‘Thank you to our students, faculty, staff, and alumni for their continued support as we undertake this important process.’”