UP CLOSE | In race for rankings, SOM weighs identity

Construction on Edward P. Evans Hall, the new School of Management campus on Whitney Avenue, remains underway.
Construction on Edward P. Evans Hall, the new School of Management campus on Whitney Avenue, remains underway. Photo by Sharon Yin.

When the School of Management began looking for a new dean three years ago, Jim Baron, the professor who led the search, cast a wide net.

“Suppose you had absolutely no constraints, and you could pick anybody to be the dean of SOM regardless of whether they’re living, dead, available or not,” Baron told professors and deans at other business schools as he hunted for names.

A former member of a search committee at another business school suggested Edward Snyder, then the dean of the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. “You’ll never get him,” Baron said the search committee member added.

But in July 2011, Snyder assumed office as the 10th dean of SOM.

Widely recognized as an expert in business school management, Snyder’s nine-year tenure at Booth drew national acclaim. He doubled the school’s endowed faculty chairs and tripled its student scholarships. In 2008, he brought in a $300 million donation from alumnus David Booth — the largest gift ever made to an American business school.

Snyder’s impressive track record came with a hefty price tag. At Booth, Snyder earned a base compensation of $702,606 in 2010, according to the University of Chicago’s 2010 tax filings. That same year, Yale’s highest-paid dean, School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern, earned $647,949. University President Richard Levin and Provost Peter Salovey made $1,042,049 and $522,544, respectively. Though Snyder declined to say whether his current salary at SOM surpasses $700,000, he said he is “probably [Yale’s] highest-paid dean.”

Baron said Snyder arrived at a “unique point” in SOM’s history, with the school’s curriculum recently revised by former SOM Dean Joel Podolny and construction of a new campus underway on Whitney Avenue. Snyder is “stimulated” by the challenges and strategies behind business school management, Baron said, and is known for working to “create something that’s more enduring than just himself.”

For his part, Snyder said SOM’s status in the broader business school landscape is “really interesting and challenging and intriguing.” His goals as dean focus on building SOM’s reputation and elevating its placement in the national business school rankings, and he said he would never have left Booth for a school that lacked “a distinctive path to greatness.”

Though students, faculty and alumni interviewed applauded Snyder’s appointment as an administrative success for the University, it remains to be seen whether his agenda can fit with the school’s unconventional ideals of preparing students for work in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. And some in the SOM community fear the school’s original identity will be lost in a quest to rise through the rankings.

NOT ‘JUST ANOTHER’ BUSINESS SCHOOL

When Yale administrators fashioned SOM in the mid-1970s, they aimed to fill a hole in business education at the time. The lines between the public and private sectors were blurring, but traditional business schools had not altered their curricula to reflect the shift — leaving a segment of aspiring business leaders dissatisfied with educational offerings nationwide, SOM’s founding Dean William Donaldson said.

SOM was developed to teach business skills needed to work in nonprofits, private corporations and the public sector. To emphasize the distinctiveness of its education, the school initially offered a Master of Public and Private Management degree rather than the standard Master of Business Administration. The goal, SOM professor Victor Vroom said, was for SOM to dissolve an “artificial divide” between teaching specific business skills and studying their underlying social sciences, and to be more than “just another business school.”

“It made no sense for us to duplicate Wharton or Harvard or Stanford or any other institution,” said Vroom, who helped establish the school. “Since we were a late entrant, we had to capitalize on our advantage, which was that we had no hostage to the past.”

In its early years, SOM was heralded by its first students as “a kind of laboratory” for a new model of business education, said Rob Quartel SOM ’78, a member of the school’s inaugural class. The school included students in developing its curriculum, making administrative decisions and navigating other “early growing pains,” he said.

But over the past three decades, some alumni have worried that SOM is compromising its founding principles and gradually abandoning its interdisciplinary approach to business education.

Though Vroom said many alumni considered the MPPM a source of pride and an emblem of the school’s uniqueness, SOM replaced the degree with an MBA in the early 2000s because employers often did not realize the two designations represented equal qualification for business administration. He said many alumni chose not to convert their degrees when given the opportunity.

Mark Tuckerman SOM ’78 said he sees his alma mater as “wasted potential.” Even though former SOM Dean Joel Podolny established a multidisciplinary curricular track in the mid-2000s, Tuckerman said the school has largely lost its integrated approach — stripping his MPPM of the values it was intended to represent. When SOM introduced the MBA, Tuckerman chose to convert his MPPM to its more mainstream equivalent.

“I’d been out of school for 20 years or so, and I hadn’t seen any evidence that what [SOM was] doing was different,” he said. “So I figured, why should I lie about [the MPPM] or tell somebody it’s something special when it isn’t?”

Marion McCollom Hampton SOM ’82 GRD ’87 said she feels SOM has deviated from its original academic principles. She stopped donating to the school a few years after graduating and currently has no plans to continue.

“If the idea is to make Yale School of Management a business school that’s like Wharton or Chicago or any of the other big traditional business schools, I’m just not interested,” she said.

WHAT’S IN A RANKING?

While those affiliated with SOM differ over whether the school is straying from its original mission, few doubt that Snyder was brought in to elevate SOM’s status in the world of business education.

SOM has passed through the hands of 10 different deans during its 36-year history — an abnormally high rate of turnover for a business school, where most deans hold their posts for at least eight years. Podolny, a popular dean during his tenure, resigned abruptly in 2008 after just three years to take a position with Apple. Vroom said the school’s priorities have fluctuated according to the interests of each dean.

Faculty and alumni alike welcomed Snyder, who has said he hopes to serve as dean for 10 years if re-appointed for a second five-year term, as a much-needed source of stability for the school. But some alumni worry Snyder will only shift the school further from its founding principles.

University President Richard Levin lists a number of credentials when explaining why Snyder was hired: he brought in the largest donation in business school history at the University of Chicago’s Booth School, helped internationalize Booth, and is regarded as “just about the most successful business school dean.” And he dramatically improved the Chicago business school’s ranking.

Under Snyder’s tenure, Booth consistently numbered among the top five business schools in the country and currently sits in the top three of most national rankings. SOM is not quite as highly regarded. Though SOM placed 10th in the 2013 U.S. News & World Report ranking, it has struggled to remain within the top 20 on other lists, placing 21st in BusinessWeek’s most recent ranking of the best full-time American MBA programs, published in 2010.

Snyder called rankings an integral part of the “competitive landscape” for business schools. Improving SOM’s ranking will ensure that the school is able to attract the best students and faculty, Snyder said, and will ultimately increase the value of an SOM degree. He aims to have SOM rank consistently in the top 10 business schools within the next four years, and in the top five within the next decade.
“I think it’s not only correct for me to view this as part of my job, but I think it would actually be irresponsible for me to say I don’t care about rankings,” he said. “If we do better in the rankings, that means our students and alumni have better opportunity sets, for whatever they want to do, in all sectors, other things being equal.”

Still, many professors interviewed who have studied business school rankings cautioned that chasing a high ranking can cause schools to prioritize rating factors over the student experience when making policy decisions. U.S. News & World Report, for example, ranks schools on criteria that include students’ average starting salary, acceptance rate and evaluations by administrators at peer schools.

“That’s what rankings ultimately do — they tell schools what’s important,” said Richard Bunch ’85, managing director of the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan. “I don’t think that any place has enough standing to do that.”

Judith Samuelson SOM ’82, executive director of the business and society program at the Aspen Institute, a nonprofit think tank, said rankings often consider criteria like students’ “return on investment” — factors she said are unimportant to the actual educational experience.

Just seven months after taking office, Snyder is already enacting policies that will likely boost the school’s ranking. Among other efforts, Snyder is building partnerships with international business schools and restructuring SOM’s budget to increase spending on marketing and scholarships — measures that will raise the school’s visibility on the world stage and its desirability among prospective students.

Snyder said he has closely studied SOM’s founding mission and spoken with its students, faculty and alumni in an effort to keep the course he is charting for the school from defying its identity.

But John Byrne, a former executive editor of BusinessWeek who designed the publication’s business school rankings and currently runs the business school news site Poets and Quants, said it would be difficult for a school to increase its rankings without following a standard business school model. Byrne said SOM is disadvantaged in many rankings because a relatively small percentage of its graduates enter the private sector, making the salaries of recent alumni lower on average than those of students at peer institutions.

“The single most important factor in rankings across the board, other than with BusinessWeek’s ranking, is salary,” he said. “If you’re sending a certain percentage of students to the public sector, your salaries are just going to be lower.”

Byrne predicted that SOM will gradually admit fewer “nonprofit types” in order to improve its rankings. When informed of this prediction, Snyder said he no intention of shifting admissions priorities and that he would like to “take that bet.” His goal, he said, is to “raise demand for Yale MBAs in all sectors” rather than shift the makeup of SOM’s student body, though he acknowledged that students’ average salaries after graduation will pose an ongoing problem for some business school rankings.

A SCHOOL WITHIN A BRAND

Despite struggling to earn top-10 rankings, SOM’s affiliation with an Ivy League university has helped it achieve widespread recognition.

Though the school will relocate to a new campus on Whitney Avenue in less than two years, SOM’s original buildings on Prospect Street and Hillhouse Avenue reside near those of other Yale departments and schools. Kline Biology Tower and Kroon Hall are visible to the north, while mansions housing the offices of social science faculty sit to the south.

SOM’s close proximity to the University’s central campus is not an accident: the school’s founders hoped it would build academic connections with the rest of Yale. SOM offers a total of 10 joint-degree programs — many with unconventional partners such as the Divinity School, the School of Forestry and Environmental Science and the Drama School — in addition to more typical ones like the JD/MBA.

Many business schools are more distanced from their home institutions — both in geography and curriculum. Harvard Business School, for example, is separated from the rest of the university by the Charles River and offers only five joint-degree programs.

Though Vroom said Harvard Business School has grown more connected to its university in recent years, he added that SOM’s founders partly reacted to the relative independence of business schools like Harvard’s in designing SOM.

“The Charles River is very wide at the point where [Harvard’s] business school’s on one side and the social sciences are on the other,” Vroom said. “The students didn’t cross the bridges, and the faculty, with a few exceptions, didn’t cross the bridges.”

Samuelson, who said she took classes at other Yale schools during her time as an SOM student, described the school’s connection to Yale as “somewhat anomalous” within the world of business schools.

Snyder said he intends to strengthen SOM’s ties to the University during his tenure through measures such as increasing joint faculty appointments between SOM and Yale’s other schools. While Snyder said he has not taken a similar approach in leading other business schools, he said SOM has greater potential to benefit from connections with its home institution, considering Yale’s renown and breadth of academic resources.

The “Yale brand” has proven essential, Snyder said, as he solicits international business schools to join SOM in creating a network of partnerships. Guillermo Selva, the dean of INCAE Business School, a member of the network with campuses in Nicaragua and Costa Rica, said in February that he was immediately interested in participating in the endeavor because it carried the Yale name.

“If Yale is behind an initiative like this, it means they have thought about it and figured out a mechanism that will benefit all our schools,” he said.

Snyder said he feels the Yale name is also important for broader promotional efforts, as professors and students come to SOM in part “to come to Yale.” He added that SOM faces the constant challenge of teaching its students competitive business skills in the context of a “broad-minded” education.

“To pull it off, we need to have our graduates be just as good as the Wharton grads in terms of things like pivot tables in Excel,” Snyder said. “We want to have people who can pivot, and see the world, and understand that complexity in ways that Yale people can — and that’s the sweet spot.”

CHANGING GOALS, PRESERVING CULTURE

So far, Snyder has carefully balanced his quest for a top ranking with preserving the intellectual foundation of SOM — particularly since one of his predecessors antagonized the majority of the SOM community by changing too much too quickly.

In the 1980s, then-University President Benno Schmidt hired Michael Levine, a new dean with an aggressive agenda. Schmidt had grown frustrated with a pronounced lack of consensus among the SOM faculty, who were divided over the academic direction of the school, Yale historian Gaddis Smith ’54 GRD ’61 said.

Within days of Levine’s hire, the new dean gutted the school’s organizational behavior and operations research faculty, allowing just a handful of tenured professors from those departments to remain.

“It was horrendous,” Smith said. “The worst of it from the University is that Benno Schmidt said, ‘He has full control of everything, what’s going to be taught, who’s going to be teaching it … and he reports to me and the faculty have no power, period.’”

Alumni were so unnerved by Levine’s actions at SOM that they rented a plane to fly over the Yale Bowl at the 1988 Yale-Harvard football game and flash a banner reading: “Benno — Save Yale School of Management. Send Levine to HBS.” Weeks later, the Exchange, an SOM student newsletter, reported that 250 alumni gathered before Woodbridge Hall to shout “Save our school!” and “Where was Benno?”

Levine declined to comment for this article and Schmidt did not respond to requests for comment this month.

Though Snyder has a clear vision for the school, faculty and alumni said they are confident his leadership will not resemble Levine’s in style or substance.

“I don’t know Ted very well yet, but he is not Michael Levine,” said Quartel, an SOM alumnus from the school’s first class.

Throughout his inaugural year at Yale, Snyder has met with small groups of students in his office — meetings he said were designed to introduce him to the student body. Michael Gitner SOM ’13 said in January that attending one such meeting assuaged his concern over whether Snyder would be able to adapt his leadership style to SOM’s culture and high number of students interested in the nonprofit and public sectors.

Anna Meyendorff, a friend of Snyder’s from when he directed the University of Michigan Business School’s Davidson Institute in the early 1990s, said Snyder has an open mind that helps him adapt his administrative skills to the needs of different schools. Meyendorff, who today is a manager at the economic consulting firm the Analysis Group, noted that the bulk of Snyder’s prior academic work had focused on industrial organization and antitrust policy in the United States, but that he was able to “branch out quickly” and study the same concepts on an international scale at the Davidson Institute.

“Some people, they have a model in their heads and that’s the model they’re most familiar with, and they continue to apply that model throughout their lives in a lot of different ways,” Meyendorff said. “I don’t think Ted’s like that.”

CEMENTING AN IDENTITY

In addition to taking the helm of a community with a strong sense of its identity and founding principles, Snyder has also entered an institution experiencing dramatic change.

In December 2013, SOM will open its new 242,000-square-foot campus on Whitney Avenue to students and faculty, Snyder said, bringing the quality of the school’s facilities up to par with that of its education. Ravi Dhar, an SOM professor on the search committee that appointed Snyder, said the new campus will give a “distinct face” to the school’s identity and previously scattered layout.

“Having a physical structure helps with identity — that’s the first thing,” Dhar said. “Even though identity is ironically in the mind, having a physical structure really helps.”

But construction of Edward P. Evans Hall, the new campus designed by renowned British architect Lord Norman Foster ARC ’62, has received mixed reactions from students and faculty.

School of Architecture professor Alan Plattus ’76 said the building resembles a “spaceship” that landed on Whitney Avenue and does not relate to the University’s architecture or that of its surrounding neighborhood. Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen ARC ’94, another architecture professor, said the new campus “sends a message about power and money, while the old one was more inconspicuous.”

The majority of students interviewed said they are looking forward to the move to Whitney Avenue, as the new campus will provide much-needed study spaces and common areas.

“SOM [currently] lacks in places where you can study quietly and places that are reservable,” Andrew Lebwohl SOM ’12 said in January. “There’s plenty of space at SOM where you can have meetings, but the question is whether you can reserve the space.”

Though the new building will unite the SOM community under one roof, Dhar cautioned that the sheer size of the facilities risks weakening the tight-knit character of the SOM community, which he said developed organically in the smaller campus.

Snyder said he will convene groups of students and faculty to find ways of ensuring that SOM’s culture transitions into the new building next fall. He added that housing the entire school in one building will likely have more benefits than drawbacks.

Even as SOM moves farther from Yale’s central campus, Snyder said he is not concerned that the relocation will prevent the school from strengthening its ties with the University.

“I think Evans Hall is going to become a destination, and a lot of people will want to walk that block,” Snyder said. “We want to be proactive about inviting people outside the school.”

SOM professor Douglas Rae said he will miss his office in 56 Hillhouse Ave., but added that members of SOM are exchanging Victorian mansion décor for something “unquestionably better” for the school’s development. Rae said he believes the scale and caliber of the new campus will ultimately signal that the University is “serious about the quality and stature” of SOM.

“But, you know,” he said, “we’ve got to watch the movie to see.”

Correction: April 11

The graph in an earlier version of this article mistakenly switched the labels for rankings by the Financial Times and U.S. News and World Report.

Comments

  • Sara

    How many faculty and students will be injured and killed trying to cross the Whitney Avenue highway?

    The University has done nothing about trying to calm traffic on that roaring maw of a highway, and there have recently been many serious injuries and a couple deaths.

    The single existing pedestrian signal in the thousands of feet between Humphrey and Trumbull, leading many to cross at the mid-blocks, won’t do anything to improve safety.

    • concerned

      I’m with you Sara. Let us set up our own pool as to how many and in what year. We know crossing Whitney is not strolling a quad but wishful thinking instead. How many visitors will know this? Can the University really claim no responsibility for fatalities?

  • Yokel

    Can’t say that extremely UGLY building is gonna help either. Out of place and way over-scale relative to Whitney Ave in general. On the brighter side, at least the Architecture building and Gibbs Lab are no longer the homeliest buildings on the Yale campus.