Before Laura Tyson, Berkeley Haas’ interim dean, took the reins from outgoing Dean Rich Lyons, she asked him what major issues she should confront during her limited deanship. “He talked about this issue,” Tyson tells Poets&Quants, “about the ongoing effort of Haas to increase under-represented minority enrollment, and about the fact that we’d had basically two really disappointing years in enrolling African Americans, and that he had been working with the students. Students had come to him with a variety of recommendations of things that we might do. And he said to me they were largely things we either are doing now or things we will implement in the summer.”
Of underlying causes for the downturn in African-American enrollment, Tyson, dean until January when newly hired Ann Harrison takes the reins, says, “I really can’t explain it.” She will receive a report from an “action plan group” of school stakeholders on October 5. She says she expects to make the plan public. It will include “everything we possibly can do right away, now, not long-term but right away now. To increase the number of applicants we have, to identify them, to sell Haas to them, to make sure that we have as a priority to increase the number of African-American students at Haas.”
On the matter of scholarships, “We don’t have adequate funding for scholarships, period,” Tyson says.
ADMINISTRATION EXPRESSES FULL COMMITMENT TO GREATER DIVERSITY
In an email to students earlier this month, Tyson wrote that
over the last “four months,” Haas senior staff, the admissions team, the full-time MBA program office, and the school’s new director of inclusion and diversity, Élida Bautista, “have been actively working on this issue. The work of the Race Inclusion Initiative has provided welcome input into the process, resulting in several new actions that are already being implemented. But more must be done and now is the time to commit to concrete plans.
“Therefore,” Tyson continued, “I have tasked Jay Stowsky, Senior Dean of Instruction, and Courtney Chandler, Senior Dean and Chief Operating Officer, to report back to me within 30 days with a schoolwide action plan to combat the factors in the way of achieving our shared vision of a diverse student body that meets the standards we all expect of Berkeley Haas.”
Chandler and Stowsky told students in a subsequent email that the school’s initial actions would focus on three primary objectives: Rebuild trust with underrepresented minority students, alumni, and allies; make Haas a community that African-American and all underrepresented minority students want to join; and, simply, increase the number of African-American students at Haas.
“We are fully committed,” they wrote, “to making Berkeley Haas the welcoming, inclusive, and diverse community we will all be proud of.”
Steele says the problem isn’t that Haas is a place African-American students don’t want to come. On the contrary, she insists, they do — and the school is, moreover, a much-sought-after destination for other URM students.
“People have rightfully asked why there was no uproar or articles written when our LatinX numbers where so embarrassingly low for so long, and I think that is fair,” Steele says. “My personal feeling is that, as a student in 2014, I naively thought that if we just kept working behind the scenes we could activate change, and I had to realize our limitations.”
Students have made great change at Haas, however, as Steele points out: “Remember that it was the student activism of the Gender Equity Initiative that pushed Haas to move from 30% to over 40% women in the full-time MBA program, and, while we celebrate the 13 LatinX students in the Class of 2020, remember that the Class of 2016 had just four. Without qualified DNI professionals in admissions and a strategy, these trends could also reverse.”
Steele and Olivia Anglade also took issue with Tyson’s framing of the work as starting “four months ago,” saying it misses the mark. Anglade wrote a letter to Dean Lyons in August 2017 expressing dismay about the decrease in black enrollment in the Class of 2019. “I said, ‘Look, our class size is growing, but the numbers of black students are going down.’ And I had conversations with Dean Lyons as well as Morgan, and I asked, ‘What are we doing as a class, and what are we doing as an administration?’ And since then the numbers have gotten worse, but not because students aren’t working on the problem.”
“We started RII in 2016 in part because Haas was writing a new five-year strategic plan and we wanted a DNI Initiative to be a part of it,” Steele says. “We know change can come in fits and starts and takes time. However, students and alumni have been doing this work and pushing the dean and admissions for years, and to ‘rebuild trust’ the school must acknowledge that.”
‘COMMITTED TO GETTING THIS RIGHT’
Dean Tyson acknowledges the significant investment by Haas students to increase diversity in the full-time MBA, and she acknowledges that the outcome “has been such a disappointment. It has clearly been disappointing. This admissions team is dedicated, but the results have been disappointing. And that’s why I asked for the action plan, to try to look at every part of the process. And all the rest of this year we are going to be implementing everything, literally everything, we can think of. We’re getting advice from the campus, we’re looking at what other schools have done, we’re looking at the recommendations of the students from last year.
“We want to make sure that Haas is a community that these students want to join,” Tyson says, adding that she’s inclose communication with incoming Dean Ann Harrison on all these matters. “It is so inclusive — it’s the defining principle here, it’s the culture. And that is what I want to make sure is communicated.”
Adds Bernstein: “I think ultimately we’re committed to getting this right, we are trying to follow through on having an inclusive environment. It’s part of our mission and culture, and creating a diverse community is an important part of preparing our students to lead in a diverse world.”
But change, Steele says, “should not be driven by the fear of failures being exposed. I hope Dean Tyson and Dean Harrison will be committed to progress and to holding the administration and admissions accountable.”