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The Biggest B-School Scandal Stories Of 2017

Stanford GSB Dean Jonathan Levin

2. Stanford Misleads Students, Donors On Financial Aid Packages

Last February, current Stanford MBA student, Adam Allcock was toiling through mounds of highly confidential data. The exposed data was result of a computer breach and included 14 terabytes of student data detailing the most recent 5,120 financial aid applications from 2,288 students, spanning a seven-year period from 2008-2009 to 2015-2016. The data was mistakenly stored on a shared network accessible to all GSB faculty, students, and staffers. On February 23 of last year, Allcock reported the breach to Jack Edwards, director of financial aid at the GSB, and within an hour, the data was removed.

But not before Allcock saved the data. After more than 1,500 hours of analysis, Allcock produced a lengthly report and sent it to Dean Jonathan Levin. The report was later circulated to fellow MBA students on the GSB campus. Among many other things, the report stated: “The GSB secretly ranks students as to how valuable (or replaceable) they were seen, and awarded financial aid on that basis. Not only has the GSB also been systematically discriminating by gender, international status and more while lying to their faces for the last 10 to ~25 years.”

Specifically, the report stated, scholarship money went to applicants and students who did not demonstrate financial need, including women, domestic students and some from the financial sector. It comes as little surprise — it’s no secret MBA programs have gone to great efforts to boost enrollment of women in MBA programs. But the issue is Stanford’s claim to have only awarded scholarships based on need rather than merit.

“GSB fellowships were only in part determined by a student’s financial need despite publicly repeated claims to the contrary,” he wrote in the report. “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 and without any knowledge can graduate with up to an additional $80,000 of debt…”

An aerial view of Harvard Business School with the iconic Baker Library in the center. Photo by Gren Hren/Harvard Business School

1. Harbus Editors Call Stanford GSB’s Response A ‘Gross Negligence’

Throwing salt in the wound. Or throwing shade, as the young ones say. Either way, the Harvard Business School’s student newspaper, The Harbus, took the liberty to kick a rival while it was down when publishing an editorial entitled “Can A Business School Die Of Shame?” in response to the Stanford Graduate School of Business’s handling of the data breach fallout mentioned above.

“We feel a tremendous amount of sympathy to our peers at Stanford GSB because had this happened at HBS, there is no doubt that our student body would be outraged beyond words,” the editors wrote in the unsigned editorial. “Not only is regressive economic discrimination in financial aid a breathtaking breach of trust, and a shocking disaffirmation of the school’s purported egalitarian values, but we believe that it also represents gross negligence by the Stanford Administration in their duty to uphold the most important element of any elite business school degree: the school’s brand.”

But that was just the beginning.

“The response offered by Stanford administration offers a case study to MBA students in exactly what they should not do when in damage control,” the editors continued. “In seeking to explain the episode, Stanford GSB Dean Jon Levin diverted attention away from the core objection, focusing almost exclusively on the issue of the data security ­ a serious technical breach of confidence to be sure, but one that pales in comparison to the revealed compromise in school values. In the few words he does devote to the true problem of the administration’s conduct, Dean Levin minimizes the systemic gender, economic, and national origin discrimination as a mere miscommunication about ‘base level’ versus ‘incremental’ fellowship awards. Instead of showing leadership by taking responsibility for these shortcomings, he offers only the vague promise to be ‘significantly more transparent about the principles and objectives being applied in making financial aid awards.’”

Low blow? Perhaps. But Stanford University’s student-run newspaper also published an editorial by a university undergraduate student who said pretty much the exact same thing.

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