Each year, some of the world’s most elite business schools are embroiled in scandal. 2018 was no different — from deans resigning or being removed for various reasons, to complaints of hazing at a top school’s welcome week, to the mishandling of diversity and gender issues, we saw it all. But two big storylines in particular cast shadows upon some of the world’s top B-schools: rankings fraud and sexual assault.
This year, Columbia Business School earned headlines in the wrong way. Toward the beginning of the year was the #MeToo trial between a junior professor and senior professor. It was a literal case of what can and should be addressed in the business school setting when it comes to workplace #MeToo lessons. Later in the year, CBS Dean Glenn Hubbard announced he would step down from his job at the end of this academic year. And before year’s end, a current MBA student at the New York City school came forward with very legitimate proof that her and other female classmates had been sexually assaulted by their male counterparts at various school-related social functions.
And then you have rankings. Sometimes schools go too far in falsifying data, and that was the case with Temple University’s Fox School of Business. It turns out their stellar placement in various online MBA rankings was all a facade based on falsified data reported to U.S. News & World Report.
Below, in no particular order are the scandals and controversies that stood out the most in 2018.
10. University of Southern California Marshall School of Business Ousts Dean (And One Former Student Tries To Rally Others To Save Him)
It wasn’t an ideal kickoff to the holiday season for long-term USC Marshall Dean Jim Ellis. In December, the Los Angeles Times first reported he was being terminated effective on June 30th of 2019 — three years ahead of the end of his current five-year term. USC Interim President delivered the news, citing allegations that he failed to properly deal with a series of racial and gender bias complaints at the school over the past eight years.
The news came at an odd time for Dean Ellis, who will remain at Marshall as a faculty member. Earlier this fall, USC’s Online MBA program debuted at the top of the Poets&Quants ranking of online MBA programs. Two months ago, Ellis received a $70,000 bonus from the university. Just one month ago, the school received a stellar ranking, placing 13th in Bloomberg Businessweek’s most recent ranking of full-time MBA programs. To top it off, USC Marshall became the first major elite MBA program to reach gender parity in an incoming class, enrolling 52% women this past fall.
The termination of the highly popular dean has set off a firestorm of controversy — especially among his supporters, many of which are wealthy boosters and benefactors of the school. “Of these complaints, only about 10%—an amount you can count on both hands—were deemed sufficiently worthy of being passed on to the dean for further investigation and resolution,” wrote Lloyd Greif, a major benefactor of the Marshall School in a letter to the university’s board of trustees. “Jim dealt with all of those timely and appropriately. None of the complaints alleged any egregious misconduct, and none of them involved inappropriate behavior by Jim.”
Greif has led the charge to fight for Ellis.
“I was brought up not to look away when you see something wrong,” Greif told P&Q earlier this month. “I recognize there was personal risk in standing up for him. But I’ve got to sleep at night. I can’t let an injustice happen to an innocent man. I am not that kind of fair-weather friend. This is unjust.”
As of mid-December, thousands of people had signed a petition in favor of Ellis and hundreds of letters had been sent to the school on his behalf.
If there’s one MBA program that absolutely prides itself on being a leader and innovator in diversity and inclusivity, it’s the Bay Area-based Haas School of Business. It’s located in Berkeley, the town that led the free speech movement and played very large roles in the push for civil rights and disability rights. The campus has been a beacon for progress for decades. And this past fall, it enrolled just six African-American students into its full-time MBA program. It wasn’t just the small number that was the issue. The school enrolled it’s largest class ever at 291 and admitted 28 African-American applicants, meaning only about a fifth of African-American applicants admitted actually enrolled.
The result led the school to do some soul-searching and look inward as an institution. Stakeholders across the school including the student-led Race Inclusion Initiative, the Haas Alumni Diversity Council, the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, and the Black Business Student Association, created a Haas action plan to confront a perceived lack of inclusiveness at the school and details “necessary actions and concrete plans” for reversing a two-year trend that resulted in a 68% drop in black enrollment in the MBA program. Among the top recommendations: hire a director of diversity admissions and create scholarships available to under-represented minorities, or URMs.
“Our leadership team failed to react quickly or urgently enough,” reads the report, authored by Courtney Chandler, senior assistant dean and chief strategy & operating officer, and Jay Stowsky, senior assistant dean of instruction. “The leadership approached the data using an ‘academic’ lens. We looked at the positive previous eight-year trend of increasing African-American enrollment and saw the sudden decline as a two-year statistical anomaly. Even if historically this may have been within our normal range, it doesn’t make our response acceptable — we should never become comfortable with a norm of underrepresentation.
“We need to live up to all of our Defining Leadership Principles and question the status quo. Our actions need to match our intentions. Our slowness to act broke trust with our students and alumni. We are deeply sorry about this.”