Q&A WITH FRANK HODGE, DEAN OF THE FOSTER SCHOOL OF BUSINESS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON
Poets&Quants: This is a very interesting time for business schools, isn’t it?
Dean Frank Hodge: Very interesting time. You know, we often talk to our MBA students about crisis management and how you react as a leader when the time comes, and we’re living it.
So everything’s gone online. What’s that process been like?
Last week on Friday, the university as a whole went to no in-person classes, and that left a lot of flexibility to faculty on how they complete the quarter. We’re a quarter school here, so we have essentially one week of classes left and then final exams.
What’s been amazing is, first, how that process played out with the cascading of information from the state and then the county coming together with the UW Medical Center, and informing the president and provost, who then communicated with the deans, who allowed us to contingency plan for a bit before the information went out. So it’s textbook on how it worked out as far as the cascading of information and what were the key things that we needed to always keep in mind.
One thing we’ve tried to do — our North Star — is that we’ve got to keep people and their health and welfare in mind. So we always think of students, but it also goes to the faculty and the one that gets often left off are staff. When we converted, we wanted to make sure the students had a great learning experience and it wasn’t interrupted, it just went to a different medium. But we also need to make sure our staff were supported and if they chose not to come in that they could work from home. So having thought through all of that and realizing all of the dimensions we needed to deal with and make sure we were ready to roll when it happened needed to take place, and it did. That’s been really nice to see.
But some things have been disrupted — group projects, things like that. How are you going forward with those things?
We always are concerned about (typically older) faculty that are rock stars in the classroom, but they’re pretty set in their ways. But we’ve been just amazed at how creative they’ve pivoted and said, “OK, well I’ve never used Zoom Pro before, but hey, on Monday I’m going to do it.” And they’ll teach a case or they’ll do a project and it has gone really well.
I’m the kind of person that needs to walk around and see people. So I’ve been checking in with our IT department, our instructional design people, our MBA office, our undergraduate office, always checking on what’s happening: “What are you hearing?” And the clear message is, “We’re all finding creative solutions and working together to do it.”
What about travel restrictions?
We’re at the point of encouraging people to examine their travel and only travel for essential purposes. We did end up canceling all of our study-abroad tours, which typically happened during spring break. And that was a big decision. But once again, when we made that decision, the North Star was student health and wellness.
And you know what was funny about that is, we were traveling to Level 1 countries, so we weren’t that concerned about the country we were traveling to. But because we were coming from Seattle, some of the countries got a little nervous and started canceling our visits. The firms would say, “Well we would prefer not to meet you at the company. We’ll come to the hotel.” And we just decided that’s not the experience we wanted to offer our students. So we ended up canceling all of our study tours.
We’ve called off planning any of those trips through June, so we will not book any other study tours until June. But they go in waves. Typically, the spring break is a big time period for travel, and then the next one would be summer. So in the next month we will think really hard about our summer plans and where those are. We’ve already pivoted some that are in countries like China to other countries, but we’re constantly monitoring that and making decisions.
How are things being impacted on the undergrad side of things? Most of the conversation with B-schools has been focused on MBA programs. But what changes are happening on the undergrad side of things?
It’s very similar. The one thing we needed to take into consideration, there are a lot of people who say, “When we go to online classes, do students have the necessary technology to access the classroom, the virtual classroom?” What we found is that almost everyone has access to a phone or a laptop. That hasn’t been the issue. The issue you need to think about is Internet connection and speed.
A lot of students will access the Internet in cafés or other public spaces. So what we’re doing, if we take them to a virtual environment, is we’re not having them come to campus, but we are having them go into public spaces. So we’ve had to think about that. In cases where students were uncomfortable with that, we’ve always preached flexibility. The instructor might push information to a student that’s not comfortable getting to a high-speed Internet space. Instead, push information to that student in a email or something like that. And so far those have gone well. The students have been very receptive and appreciative of the efforts that we’ve made.
But I think that was a bigger concern at the undergraduate level because when you think of a university, we never really close. You think of the research going on with live specimens and things like that — we cannot close. We can tell people not to go to class, but when we tell people not to go to class at the undergraduate level, they go back to their dorm. When they go back to their dorm, that’s no better environment than being in the classroom.
So we had to think through all of those situations. “Well, when we tell them not to come to class, where are they going to go and are they better off there?”
See the next page for a list of the top business schools and the changes they have made to their MBA programs in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
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