USC Steals Wharton Dean To Head Marshall School Without A Full Search

USC Interim President Wanda Austin and Provost Michael Quick

USC Interim President Wanda Austin and Provost Michael Quick engineered the ouster of Dean Ellis (Photo courtesy of USC)

LEAVING WHARTON WITH MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENTS

Garrett will bring with him several substantial accomplishments from Wharton. By the time he packs his bags for California, he will have nearly concluded the largest fundraising effort at Wharton in history, raising almost $1 billion in a capital campaign. Begun a year before his arrival in July of 2014, the campaign’s official conclusion is in 2021. As of today, the campaign has racked up pledges of $787.2 million, including the largest single gift—$50 million—ever given to Wharton.

Those funds will have a lasting impact on the school. Among other things, construction is now under way on a new building on the south side of Steinberg Hall-Dietrich Hall that will provide learning and teaching spaces, house the Wharton Statistics Department, and become a campus hub for analytics. At the corner of 40th and Sansom streets, a new building will be devoted to Penn student entrepreneurs. Wharton’s Vance Hall will undergo a major renovation, returning the building to the academic core of the school, and the re-named Lauder Institute building also will be refurbished.

No less crucial, Garrett also has been highly successful in the MBA rankings game. The year before his arrival, Wharton’s full-time MBA program was ranked fourth in the U.S., behind Harvard, Stanford and Chicago Booth. In fact, Chicago had ranked ahead of Wharton for the fourth time in a row on Poets&Quants’ annual composite list. Wharton also was the only Top 10 school that saw a decline in applications for the Class of 2015. After claiming first place for the first time in Poets&Quants‘ annual MBA ranking in 2017, Wharton last year found itself in a dead tie for top honors with Harvard Business School.

LITTLE RANKINGS UPSIDE FOR GARRETT AT USC MARSHALL

At USC, however, Garrett will face an unusual challenge. He is going to a school in turmoil, racked by bureaucratic and political upheaval. He will succeed a highly popular dean whose third consecutive five-year term was cut short by three years because of his termination. Dean Ellis is being forced out of his deanship by an interim president and a provost who have since both lost their jobs. HIs dismissal, backed by Board of Trustees Chair Rick Caruso, is largely viewed as unfair and a form of politically correct discrimination against an older, white male in his early 70s.

The vast majority of the school’s faculty and staff, along with its students and most supportive alumni, are united in anger over the university’s treatment of the departing dean. Austin, Quick and Caruso have been heavily criticized for their lack of transparency and failure to consult with faculty. Students have marched on campus in protest. The faculty is enraged. Many donors are cancelling or rethinking tens of millions of dollars of pledges to the school. Nearly 4,200 people have signed a petition in support of Ellis, and hundreds more have sent letters, emails and phone calls to the university’s board of trustees opposing the university’s decision.

RESENTMENT OVER THE UNIVERSITY’S TREATMENT OF DEAN ELLIS IS DEEP

Austin has never publicly disclosed the reason for the termination, only that the decision was made “after careful deliberation,” according to an email sent to alumni. “Because this is a personnel matter, we are limited in what we can share about this decision,” she added. Caruso, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, said that Ellis’ firing “is part of where the university is today in terms of acknowledging a proper culture that needs to be embraced and practiced on campus.” Ellis has told faculty and staff that he has done nothing inappropriate.

Resentment over Ellis’ treatment is deep and it will be a major challenge for Garrett to win back support for the school. It will also be much harder for Garrett to further improve on Marshall’s already high rankings under Ellis. Last year, the biggest single gain in the top 25 programs belonged to Marshall, which advanced four places to rank 22th, its highest placing ever. Only two years earlier, Marshall’s full-time MBA program ranked 36th.

In his memo, Quick thanked Ellis “for his strong dedication to USC Marshall. Under his leadership, the School made great academic strides and gained international recognition. We look forward to Dr. Garrett further fueling your passion, and for the Marshall community to take advantage of – and create – extraordinary opportunities in the ever-changing business climate of the 21st century. Under his leadership, along with Dr. James and, with your support, the USC Marshall School of Business will continue to be an engine for innovation and a model of global economic leadership.”

PENN PRESIDENT & PROVOST HEAP MORE PRAISE ON GARRETT

Over at Penn, the president and provost were equally upbeat in describing Garrett’s accomplishments as Wharton dean. “Geoff has expanded the Wharton standing faculty to more than 240 members and increased its breadth, depth, diversity, and eminence,” wrote Gutmann and Pritchett in their memo. “This has enabled the school to reinforce its leadership in its traditional areas of strength while also emerging as a global force in data analytics, entrepreneurship, fintech, behavioral economics, and other fields that are defining the future of business. Innovative programs such as the Penn Wharton Budget Model, Behavior Change for Good, the Stevens Center for Innovation in Finance, the Harris Alternative Investments Program and the Analytics Initiative are helping Wharton do pioneering work in novel ways, reach more communities, and have more global impact than ever before. Wharton’s volunteer leadership and alumni are engaged as never before, and their unprecedented support has fueled the School’s continued ascent. We are committed to sustaining Wharton’s extraordinary momentum of the past five years throughout our Power of Penn campaign and far into the future.

“The student body is more accomplished, diverse, and better supported than at any point in Wharton’s storied history. A revamped undergraduate curriculum has brought a renewed school-wide focus on experiential learning and teaching excellence. Dual-degree programs and cross-school partnerships have expanded in high-priority areas including global business and society, healthcare leadership, management and delivery, integrated product design, business and law, and data science and information technology. Online education has grown exponentially with online preparation classes for incoming MBA first-year students, online specializations for business professionals in fields from leadership and management to business analytics and fintech, and hundreds of thousands of digital learners from around the world have accessed Wharton MOOCs.”

DON’T MISS: AT USC’S MARSHALL SCHOOL, AN ENRAGED FACULTY TRIES TO UNDERSTAND THEIR DEAN’S OUSTER or INTERVIEW WITH WHARTON DEAN GEOFFREY GARRETT

About the Author...

John A. Byrne

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.