“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.”
This opening line from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities would be an apt description for how 2018 went for the Marshall School of Business.
Let’s start with the worst of times, since one event darkened what was otherwise one of the best years ever for an MBA program.
In late November, Dean James Ellis was told he would be removed as dean of the Marshall School. The reason? The university appears to be blaming Ellis for what it believes is an inordinate number of complaints (roughly 70 in 11 and one-half years) lodged by either students or faculty at Marshall with the university’s Office of Equity and Diversity (OED). Although Ellis himself was never cited for any misconduct himself, such accusations are basically a career death sentence in today’s #MeToo climate. Just two problems with the situation. First, only 10% of the complaints were ever forwarded to Ellis (and the ones that reached him received immediate action). Second, in due process worthy of the communist East bloc, the university won’t even let Ellis read the charges levied against him. So much for transparency.
Not surprisingly, faculty and students alike have rallied to Ellis’ cause, with a petition demanding his reinstatement generating 3,000 signatures by Christmas. The issue also includes sharp political dimensions, beginning with an overzealous (and largely unqualified) interim dean seeking to undo the damage of harassment and bias issues being largely ignored at other schools on the USC campus. While pointed letters and negative press coverage have left the decision-makers unmoved, Ellis’ supporters may still hold the leverage. One USC development officer expects the school to lose $30-$40 million dollars in support from alumni and friends over the action against Ellis.
That’s bad news for a program that has been on a major roll as of late. In a down year for student interest across the board, Marshall was one of only Top 20 MBA program to receive more applications than the previous year. It wasn’t just the quantity of applications that stuck out during the 2017-2018 cycle. Anne Ziemniak, assistant dean and director of the full-time MBA program, described the Class of 2020 as “the “highest quality applicant pool in Marshall’s history.”
The numbers bear out her assertion. The median GMAT reached 705 – an all-time high and a 32 point jump over the past three years. Average undergraduate GPAs also surged from 3.3 to 3.5. However, the number that truly stuck out was 52% – the percentage of women in the Class of 2020. It was the first time that a Top 20 business school had more women than men in the class – thanks to a grassroots effort launched by first-year students and supported wholeheartedly by administration. If the school can achieve this milestone consistently, it will make the program all the more formidable among recruiters, says Mark Brostoff, assistant dean and director of MBA career services.
“As we go to market with internship opportunities and full-time jobs, employers are going to be very happy that we have a 50-50 split in the class,” he noted in a 2018 interview with P&Q. “They want more women in their pipelines. The resumes requested most often in the last couple of years are of female candidates.”
If student quality and demographics don’t sell the program, the Trojan Network will. An alumni base of 88,000 members strong, the Trojan Network is a philosophy as much as people. Their chief tenet: Look out for opportunities to help future Marshall MBAs – just as alumni looked out for us. It is a natural extension of the Marshall culture — where students enjoy a strong voice in decision-making – that carries over into their roles as Marshall MBA graduates. “Students see that our alumni are engaged and they themselves pick up on the cue that it is important to be engaged once you graduate as well,” Ziemniak tells P&Q in a 2018 interview.
Alongside stronger recruits and a rabidly-supportive alumni, the Marshall School also rolled out a new curriculum this fall. The difference: It offers a stronger analytical focus with more holistic programming that better reveals the synergies between various organizational functions and levels. It was a heavy investment, no doubt. Now the question being asked is whether Marshall’s momentum and assets be enough to overcome the dissension roiling the campus. To be continued…
How do you stir up excitement in your MBA community? A new dean? Meh, their triumphs usually happen behind-the-scenes and take years to realize. Free coffee? Only if it isn’t the cheap stuff…and caffeine buzzes wear off pretty quick. A new building? Yeah, now you’re talking.
Yes, christening a new building presents a fresh start, where the furniture is new, the space is open, and the walls and floors sparkle. More than that, they are a statement about a school’s purpose and capabilities. Few buildings made a bigger splash in 2018 than the new Rowling Hall at the McCombs Business School.
Everything is bigger in Texas – and that includes business schools. Rowling Hall rises five stories and covers 497,500 square feet in downtown Austin. According to Tina Mabley, the assistant dean and director of the full-time MBA program, the building’s wide spaces and state-of-the-art extras were designed as a space to spark conversation and idea-sharing, and experimentation. More than that, Rowling Hall serves as a bridge to the larger Austin community. Nicknamed “Silicon Halls,” Texas’ capitol has emerged as a startup engine and corporate powerhouse, thanks to 18.4% job growth over the past five years coupled with a 2.9% unemployment rate. Home to 85 accelerators and incubators – with areas startups drawing nearly $800 million dollars in investment in 2017 alone – the region also bustles thanks to a large corporate presence from standard-bearers like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple. With Rowling Hall, Mabley believes that McCombs can further tap into the area’s rich expertise and connections.
“Our unparalleled location places us at the intersection of The University of Texas campus and downtown Austin, which serves as a vibrant business laboratory right outside our doors, explains Mabley in a 2018 statement to P&Q. “The University of Texas and the city of Austin have grown and evolved together. Austin has been the fastest-growing city in the country for three of the last five years and Rowling Hall allows us to capitalize on all the richness that growth has brought to the area. We appreciate a synergistic relationship with the city, which enhances the experiential applications and interactions we can offer our students every day. Being a major hub for tech, healthcare, energy, and a variety of other industries, we continue to find ways to bring these elements into our curriculum and community.”
A new building and an enviable location aren’t the only things that McCombs has going for it. In 2018, the full-time MBA population grew from 265 to 289 students at this “famously friendly” business school. In December, the school received a “transformative” $20 million dollar gift from alum Phil Canfield, with a heavy dose going to scholarship to further attract the best students. The McCombs MBA also benefits from an embarrassment of riches, including a top tier undergraduate business program; a faculty that prides itself on teaching excellence as much as research prowess; and a larger research university flush with resources and avenues for partnerships. Let’s not forget a 450,000 member alumni base who aren’t shy about throwing up a “Hook ‘em Horns” everywhere from the Great Wall of China to the White House lawn.
“This depth at the university allows us to create innovative programs that connect collaborative teams across campus,” Mabley adds, “whether that’s public policy students, med students, and MBAs finding solutions for child poverty; architecture students and MBAs working on sustainable design ideas; or law students, computer science students, and MBAs teaming up to work with early-stage companies and start-ups to help raise series one financing.”