Poets&Quants’ 10 Biggest Scandals Of The Decade 

Syracuse Whitman Dean Kenneth Kavajecz was removed from his job by the university

5. Naughty Goings-On In Upstate New York

In the fall of 2016, a day after being charged with patronizing a prostitute, Whitman School of Management Dean Kenneth Kavajecz was removed from his job by Syracuse University. The Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that the dean had been ticketed for a misdemeanor for third-degree patronizing a prostitute in nearby Salina, New York. He later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge and received a one-year conditional discharge.

Kavajecz had been recruited from Wisconsin Business School in 2013. He oversaw a rankings renaissance at Whitman, which climbed to No. 23 in the 2016 Bloomberg ranking from 72nd in 2013. In 2019, Bloomberg ranked Whitman’s MBA program 65th; U.S. News currently has the school at 77th, and Poets&Quants‘ aggregate ranking puts Whitman at 84th.

When Kavajecz was removed from office by the university, the school declined to offer any reason for his dismissal. After the sheriff’s office released a statement, however, the university promptly issued one of its own. “Given University policy, we are not able to discuss specifics of personnel matters,” said Kevin Quinn, senior vice president of public affairs, in a statement. “We have, however, confirmed with law enforcement that the alleged behavior did not occur on the Syracuse University campus, did not involve members of the campus community, and is unrelated to the former dean’s University responsibilities.”

By all accounts, Kavajecz seemed to have both the support and the admiration of the Whitman community. “He shook everything up,” Giuseppe Castelli, a Class of 2016 alum, told The Daily Orange. “Everything settled after years and years of complacency. He put the right people in the right places and brought this sense of urgency to the school that I didn’t see my freshman year. An urgency and fire to make us a top-notch school.” The newspaper quoted Will Geoghegan, assistant professor of management, as saying: “I don’t think anyone works harder to make this business school succeed than Dean K.”

Kavajecz landed on his feet: After a stint as a visiting professor of finance at the University of Stavanger in Norway, he launched his own financial advisory firm in Madison, Wisconsin.


Jim Ellis. File photo

4. The Controversial Ouster Of USC Marshall’s Popular Dean

Late in 2018, the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business Dean Jim Ellis was controversially removed from his post as dean of the school. If you don’t remember, Dean Ellis was being fired, effective June 30th of 2019, because he allegedly mishandled racial and gender bias complaints at the business school. The controversy stemmed from the fact that there was no evidence that he, in fact, directly poorly handled anything. The vast majority of complaints filed with USC’s Office of Equity and Diversity were unseen by him because they were never forwarded to his office.

What resulted was a firestorm of emails, letters, and signed petitions in support of Ellis. Several members of the University of Southern California’s board of trustees, including at least two former board chairs, heavily criticized current Board Chair Rick Caruso for his handling of the university’s decision to fire Ellis. More than 100 faculty members came out in support of Ellis. The embarrassing ordeal came to a head when Ellis finally spoke out in the form of a scathing letter. At the time, it was believed the ouster could cost the school around $40 million from supporters and donors of the school unhappy with the decision.

USC Marshall’s issues eventually impacted the rest of the business school community when it was able to hire Wharton Dean Geoffrey Garrett without a full search. It was a highly unusual move considering Garrett’s recent success at Wharton and the general deluge of negative news not only Marshall, but USC in general has received in recent years. Either way, Garrett has taken over as dean of USC Marshall — and the school’s position in the rankings has only improved.


Dishonorable Mention: How Wisconsin School Of Business Almost Killed Its Full-Time MBA

Anne Massey spent 22 years at Indiana University and was a highly sought-after candidate for a deanship when she took the top job at the Wisconsin School of Business. But a disastrous plan to shutter the school’s full-time MBA program knee-capped her deanship, and she resigned after only a few months. File photo

In an email sent to students on October 18, 2017, University of Wisconsin School of Business Associate Dean for MBA Programs Donald Hausch said the school was seriously considering closing the full-time residential MBA program, which would have placed the school on a list including the University of Iowa, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest, all of which have done the same. The announcement came at a surprising time. Wisconsin Dean Anne P. Massey was only three months into her deanship. The school said it would hold a town hall meeting and have faculty review the proposal before making a decision in November.

But it didn’t take till November. Less than a week after the email was sent — and about three days after the news broke, backlash at Wisconsin was furious and swift. An online letter and petition to Massey and Wisconsin faculty was created and within hours, hundreds of current and former business and university students had signed it. “We hope you consider the mission of public education as you make this decision,” the petition read. “As one of the oldest and most prestigious public universities in the nation, the University of Wisconsin provides a stellar education for students of all backgrounds. We believe that a public MBA is an essential ladder for future business leaders who may not have the financial means to attend the Harvards of the world.”

Two days later — and a week after the initial email — Massey and Wisconsin backpedaled and announced they were no longer considering removing the full-time residential MBA program. Instead, Massey wrote in a statement to the school community, “We will move forward with discussions on how to grow the undergraduate program and expand the graduate portfolio while simultaneously strengthening the full-time MBA experience.”

The fallout from the debacle revealed a heated town hall meeting and eventually led to the resignation of Dean Massey at the end of the year. She later moved on to become the dean at the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

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