Joey Ye

Even as the Yale School of Management moves up the rankings of the nation’s business schools, its administrators and faculty members say it has stayed true to its founding mission of serving society, and deny that it has taken a more corporate spin.

Founded in 1976 amid debates over Yale’s need for a business school, the SOM adopted a more nonprofit focus than its peer institutions from its first day. Its founding mission — “to educate leaders for business and society” — set the school apart at a time when many business schools were positioned as feeders to the private sector. Though its mission statement remains unaltered today, The Wall Street Journal reported on Feb. 3 that some of its alumni and students have begun questioning whether the SOM has become more corporate. According to the article, the expansion of the school’s management program, changes in graduates’ chosen career paths and the school’s relocation to the new and high-tech Evans Hall have made some concerned that the school has lost sight of its original purpose.

Nevertheless, SOM administrators and students interviewed by the News agreed that the school’s recent undertakings only suggest that it is now run in a more professionalized and structured way — a necessity given increasingly intense competition among business schools. But that does not mean a shift away from its founding mission, they said.

“Sometimes people construe changes in things like how the school is managed and what its physical plant looks like as being indicators of what the school stands for, which I think is a big mistake,” said SOM professor Jim Baron, who has taught at the school for about a decade.

Another reason for the mistaken concern, Baron said, is that as the SOM rises in rankings, people are more likely to categorize the school in the same set as the world’s very top-tier business schools, some of which are more oriented towards the private sector.

SOM’s latest employment report shows that 29.3 percent of its class of 2015 work full-time in consulting, 24.5 percent in finance and only 4.4 percent in nonprofit. But the majority of SOM graduates have pursued careers in the private sector for decades, SOM Senior Associate Dean David Bach said. What distinguishes these graduates from graduates of other business schools is, instead, what they do in those private-sector positions and how they show their commitments to both business and society from within diverse industries, he said.

SOM Senior Associate Dean Anjani Jain said because of the increasingly blurry line between the corporate and nonprofit sectors, employment data organized by industry or firm cannot fully describe the nature of a job. For example, he said, someone might work in PepsiCo — a private firm — but hold a sustainability-related position, or work in consulting but work with nonprofit clients.

Indeed, almost 10 percent of the school’s MBA students are earning a dual degree from the School of Forestry, and three-quarters of the school’s Executive MBA students focus on either health care or sustainability in year two, Bach said.

Howard Forman, director of the SOM’s MD/MBA program, who also teaches health care, agreed, noting that he has witnessed increased interest in health care among SOM students.

The employment placement numbers, as well as the school’s increasing popularity among prospective students who plan to enter the private sector, does not bother SOM Dean Edward Snyder, who has led the school since 2011.

“There is increased interest in Yale SOM from the corporate sector. While one might think that is because Yale SOM has become more corporate, another explanation is that the corporate sector has become more interested in Yale SOM’s enduring mission,” Snyder said.

Similarly, Baron said the school’s mission has not been eroded but actually has become all the more attractive among peer schools. As public trust in business institutions declines, many business schools have adopted a similar mission, posing a risk that the SOM might become less distinctive than it used to be, Baron said.

Even if the SOM has begun attracting more corporate-minded students, SOM students interviewed said the change has contributed to classroom diversity.

Ignacio Martinez SOM ’17 said that previously, a lot of applicants were a “self-selecting group,” as students applied to Yale did so because they were interested in public and social sectors. But lately, he said, the school attracts students of varying interests and has become a more heterogeneous environment.

Henry Litman SOM ’17 said the student body is a good mixture between students with social impact mindsets and students who are more corporately oriented, and the diversity contributes positively to classroom discussions.

President of the SOM Student Government Brittan Berry SOM ’16 said her organization has held conversations regarding what it means for the school to move up in the rankings and whether the school has retained its mission in education leaders for business and society. The concern has jump-started several grassroots efforts to preserve the school’s culture. For example, “Open Evans,” a new student-led project, organizes events to keep the community close despite its 2014 move into a larger building.

“The fact that people care about [the issue] and talk about it in hallway conversations, as well as in the student government means a lot,” Berry said. “It  shows that we care.”

When the SOM was founded, it offered a master’s degree in public and private management rather than an MBA.