On Tuesday, Temple University announced its current business school dean, Ronald Anderson, will step down in June 2023 and return to teaching and research.
Anderson was first appointed interim dean of the Fox School of Business in July 2018 following the rankings scandal that ultimately led to a conviction in federal court of his predecessor, Moshe Porat, for knowingly submitting false data to a prominent magazine to boost the school’s online MBA, EMBA, and part-time MBA programs. Porat was sentenced in March to 14 months in federal prison; Porat is currently free on bail as he appeals his conviction. (Read: New Temple Fox Dean: Ranking Scandal ‘Could Never Happen Again’)
Anderson was appointed to the deanship full-time in 2019. Poets&Quants connected with him this week to talk about his decision and what comes next for the Fox School; the interview has been edited for length and clarity.
To start off, why did you decide to step down?
I think there’s three components: The first is that we’re largely past the ranking issue. It hasn’t quite finished playing out in the sense that the Third Circuit Court of United States Superior Court is reviewing a couple of pieces of Moshe Porat’s appeal, so we’ll probably have that play out, I’m hoping by year end. Having said that, we’re still dealing with some of the reputational fallout, and that’s a longer term rebuild. It takes a lifetime to establish trust and two or three minutes to destroy it. From that perspective, we probably have three or four years of continuous reputation rebuild until this is beyond us. From an undergraduate perspective, the undergrads don’t really care too much about it anymore. The graduate students do, and so we still have a little bit of rebuilding.
I think the second big issue is that the last four years have been challenging, and between the rankings, the pandemic, and the demographic challenges that we’re facing in the northeastern United States, I’ll just say I’m tired. I think it’s time for a new voice, new energy in the dean’s office, and so this is a good time to make the transition. We’re kind of heading in a new direction, rebuilding the programs and so forth. Much of that has been established, and it’s just a matter of finishing that process.
Finally, as you get older, your interests change. I’ll be 64 in October, and being a dean of a large business school is, truthfully, a 24/7, 365-day job. I would like to transition into another phase in my life. Go back to teaching and research and then look forward to next steps.
Can you elaborate on some of the demographic challenges you mentioned?
In the northeastern United States, we’re dealing a lot with the aging population. It’s been happening over the last two or three years: the number of 12th graders graduating from high school is shrinking about 2 or 3%. That’s particularly prevalent in the Pennsylvania area. If you project out, it looks like in 2026, we’re going to actually see a pretty big step down in the demographics. If you go back 18 years from 2026, that gets you to the 2008 financial crisis. There was a big, big drop in the number of births, so we’re probably going to see a 6 or 7% step down (in the number of college-aged freshmen). What this really gets to is that we’re all competing for a smaller pool of students. In universities, we compete on two dimensions: quality and reputation, and on price right. It’s becoming incredibly competitive.
How would you describe the Fox School of Business in 2022?
I think we’re offering state of the art education; We’re very focused on student outcomes. And when I say student outcomes, I mean is the education that we’re providing getting students where they need to be in the corporate world, are employers loving our students? All the data tends to suggest that they are. Our undergraduates. 91.6% of them are placed within six months of graduation. With our (full-time) MBAs, 94% are placing within three months of graduation. Our specialty master students are doing just as well. We feel like on the education side, we’re doing really well.
On the research side, if you look at UTD (University of Texas at Dallas) research rankings for business schools, over the last four or five years, we’ve gone from 38th to 33rd internationally. I feel like we’re doing really well.
The other thing that I’m particularly proud of is the engagement that we are now having with our alums, and the community in corporate partnerships. That’s something that we weren’t paying a lot of attention to before. But right now, every one of our MBA students gets a corporate executive or retired corporate executive as a mentor when they come in. They’re meeting up with these mentors at least once or twice a month, and it’s been fun watching this because I think the mentors like it as much as the mentees. You know, you’re getting the CEO of Kyndryl, the IBM spin off, to be one of your mentors. It’s making a big difference for the alums, the community, and our students as well.
In terms of fundraising, we’re back to where we were. We’re on the right path, and we set some pretty ambitious objectives to get to where we need to be.
Finally, culturally, we’ve got a much more authentic and genuine environment here now. I would say that the culture of fear is completely gone, that people are much more open, that people are allowed to come into my office whenever they want. I have an open door policy. And so I think our culture is more representative of what you would see in the corporate world than what we had here before, which I have to say, was a culture of fear.
What are some of the immediate challenges Fox and other business schools are facing right now?
I think the most immediate challenge is stabilizing enrollments at both the undergraduate and the graduate level. Everybody’s seeing these declines in MBA programs. We’re seeing the growth of specialty masters, which I think is good, so finding the right portfolio in specialty masters is really important.
The other thing is how we as universities and business schools, because it’s going to have to be a partnership between the University and the business school, how we decide to deal with the declining undergraduate enrollments. From my perspective, I think it’s a right sizing exercise. Business schools are probably going to be a little bit smaller than they were five or 10 years ago.
Interesting. And what are some of the opportunities you see at Fox?
The big opportunity that we’re pursuing right now is data science and business analytics. The idea that data is so ubiquitous that our students have to learn it, they have no choice. One of the things that we’ll start this fall, is all of our students as freshmen and sophomores have to get into some form of data analytics. If coding is your thing, then you’re going to learn Python; If marketing and presentation is your thing, then you’re going to be doing business analytics.
The other thing that I think is extremely important, when I’m out talking to corporate executives and our alumni, the people skills are still incredibly, incredibly important. If we can find a way to mix it –you’re a strong data person and you also have developed strong people skills as you’ve gone through our program — I think that’s what corporate America is going to need. I think it’s the skill set that we have to give both our undergraduates and graduate students.
Let’s talk about your plans after your dean tenure ends in June.
So I’ve missed teaching; I’m just gonna say that right up front. I also hope to be able to get back into my research stream. I’ve kind of kept it alive over the last four years, but it’s hard when you’re working 24/7 to do research. I think the other thing that’s important for me is that now that I’ve been managing at this level and so forth, I see some of the things that our MBA and our master students need more access to from a finance perspective, because I’m a finance professor. I’d like to start up private equity, venture capital courses, and network our students more into that, not just from a classroom perspective, but from an experiential learning perspective.
What do you want to get done in the last year? What are your goals for your last year as dean?
I want to rationalize our specialty masters portfolio. I think we’ve over expanded and we need to rationalize that a little bit. I want to help the university find the right person to come to Fox. Those are the two biggies for me. We just rationalized our undergraduate programs last year, so I feel pretty good about that.