The Biggest B-School Scandals Of 2019

It’s pretty much bound to happen. When hundreds and sometimes thousands of young, competitive Type-A personalities gather in one place like a leading business school, disagreements and disputes — and scandals — can and do happen. But let’s not put all of this on the young adults. Hubris and ego — the seeds of rivalry and controversy — aren’t strangers to faculty and administrators, either.

This past year, like all others since Poets&Quants launched 10 years ago, there have been plenty of controversy to cover. 2019 saw ousted deans, lawsuits, crimes, cheating, and racism — just for a start. It also saw a lot of politics and grappling, not necessarily successfully, with a changing reality. In no particular order, here are some of the biggest B-school controversies we covered in 2019.

Many highly ranked schools are expected to report double-digit declines in MBA applications this year


Not exactly a scandal, but a very pervasive and troubling trend that dominated headlines almost entirely year-round was the continued drop in MBA applications. For the MBA class entering in the Fall of 2018, applications to the top-10 full-time MBA programs lost a collective 3,400 applicants compared to 2017. Schools like the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business saw applications drop by 8.5% between 2017 and 2018. At the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, the decrease was 7.5%. Chicago’s Booth School of Business declined in applications by 8.2% and even at places like Wharton, Harvard, and Stanford, full-time MBA applications dropped by 6.7%, 4.5%, and 4.6%, respectively.

Things didn’t get better this year. Full-time MBA applications fell again at virtually all top MBA programs in the U.S. And some saw some massive drops. Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business has lost 40% of its full-time MBA application volume over the past three years including a huge 30% drop in one application cycle. Yale’s School of Management dropped 15.6% from 2018 to 2019. The smaller MBA program at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business had applications drop by 22.5% in 2019 compared to 2018. Business schools at Duke, UCLA, and Emory all saw double-digit percentage losses in applications between 2018 and 2019.

The majority of this drop has come from a decrease in international applications and enrollment. According to a study published last year by the Institute of International Education, international students enrolled at U.S. B-schools dropped by 7.1% — or nearly 14,000 students. While many are placing the blame on a strong global and U.S. economy and a lack of interest in the traditional residential full-time MBA, many leaders at B-schools are also blaming the political and social climate stemming directly from the White House. The continued decrease has led to cries to deans for a re-thinking of the approach to business higher education.

Fence with barbed wire and warning sign on the border of the USA


Part of the recent issue with attracting international talent to the U.S. graduate schools and companies has not only been anti-immigration and refugee rhetoric from the White House, but also uncertainty around immigration and visa availability. In a response to the immigration issues and rhetoric, deans from 50 U.S. B-schools published a 32-page white paper and an open letter to President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and other top officials. Above all, the letter and white paper asked for a larger cap on the H-1B visas and an absolute exemption on a cap for in-demand jobs.

Dean of Duke’s Fuqua Business School Bill Boulding has been one of the outspoken ring-leaders of the effort.

“Don’t expect to see me quitting my day job and moving to Washington to lobby on a policy,” quipped Boulding in an interview with Poets&Quants from October. “Not only am I not a politician; I am not a lobbyist either. The debate around immigration gets very heated and it’s difficult to focus on particular dimensions of these immigration questions where there are bipartisan support and consensus. We have an opportunity to have these conversations with a variety of stakeholders who will be responsible for defining and articulating these policy changes.”

Among the business deans supporting pro-immigration policies for skilled immigrants are those at Stanford, Columbia, Yale, Cornell, and Dartmouth as well as Berkeley, UCLA, Michigan, Indiana University, and the University of North Carolina (see the full list here).

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