Turf war at business school impedes road to excellence


Commentary


The Rutgers Business School has just initiated its third dean search in eight years. Ever since the merger of the New Brunswick and Newark business schools in the years 1996 to 1997, three of the four deans have been forced out, ranking and reputation of the combined school has deteriorated and morale among the faculty has been in steady decline, and as a result of this, business students on both campuses have been shortchanged.

Taxpayers of New Jersey deserve a world-class business school — there is no reason why one cannot be built at Rutgers. Despite the state’s recent fiscal woes, New Jersey is among the top three highest per capita income states in the country. It is home to some of the key industries in the United States, among them being pharmaceutical, oil refineries, high tech and major financial corporations. In addition, a sizable number of the state’s residents work in key industries in New York and Philadelphia. A first-rate business school training entrepreneurs and executives of these industries will provide an indispensable service to the state.

While three or four of the nation’s best business schools are in our neighborhood, all are private and located out-of-state. Thus, Rutgers has a unique opportunity to fill the void and build a top public business school.

In almost 17 years since the merger of the business schools of Newark and New Brunswick, not only has this opportunity not been seized, but we have also lost ground in rankings and in reputation. This has put RBS in a vicious cycle. Since it is not perceived as a big time program, we have difficulty attracting the best business faculty. Without a core of top talent, RBS has no hope of finding its place among the top schools.

There are many reasons for this lack of success, but chief among them is that RBS is run by the Newark administration.

Rutgers University-Newark is effectively a satellite campus with its primary focus on Newark and the eight counties surrounding it, as former interim Chancellor Philip Yeagle stated last year in a University Senate speech. The administration in Newark is resentful of its counterparts in New Brunswick. Former Newark Chancellor Steven Diner placed this resentment in public view in a bitter op-ed in The Star-Ledger last April. In it, he complains about “expansion” of undergraduate business program in New Brunswick and states his opposition to the new business school building there.

Unfortunately, this resentment has made the atmosphere in the RBS quite toxic. When the merger took place, the undergraduate program in New Brunswick was a small, highly selective, thriving program that graduated exceptionally trained students. The Newark administrators had been fearful that the program would eventually evolve into a full-fledged business school and compete against Newark’s own program. That is why Provost Emeritus Norman Samuels, with the support of the late former Rutgers University President Francis Lawrence, initiated the takeover of the New Brunswick school. Ever since, the Newark administration has done everything possible to contain and limit the New Brunswick branch of RBS.

The tensions got so high that the former Rutgers University President Robert McCormick and former Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Philip Furmanski created what they called a “dotted line” from the RBS dean to the vice president of the University — who also acts as the interim New Brunswick chancellor. The idea was that the dean of the business school would report both to the chancellors of Newark and New Brunswick. Unfortunately, this mechanism has created its own problems. The reality is that a dean cannot have two bosses, especially when they have different, often contradictory, agendas.

The recent Strategic Plan initiated by Rutgers University President Robert Barchi and approved by the Board of Governors singles out RBS as an underachiever and places priority on its improvement and eventual evolution into a world-class research school. However, this will be a hollow aspiration if RBS remains under the jurisdiction of the Newark administration.

The bottom line is that Rutgers-Newark has neither the mandate nor the resources to oversee the growth of RBS into a top business school. In most great public schools in the Big Ten, Pac Ten and similar conferences, the flagship campus runs priority programs. Under current structure, there is no hope that we can attract a visionary dean who understands what it takes to build a top-tier business school. No high quality prospect would want to walk into this chaotic turf war and expect to lead RBS to the top.

As a result, the parade of mediocre deans will continue, the school will meander, or worse, lose further ground in reputation.

A necessary, but by no means sufficient, prerequisite to start in the path of excellence is to bring the entire RBS under the jurisdiction of the New Brunswick chancellor. The chancellor can then initiate a new search process, hire a first class dean and inform him or her that the main task is to bring RBS into a top tier research and teaching school within a decade.

Rutgers students and taxpayers of New Jersey deserve a business school they can be proud of. With some courage and persuasion, University President Barchi and the Board of Governors can and should take the first steps in the road to excellence in business education and research.

Farid Alizadeh is a professor of the Rutgers School of Business-New Brunswick.

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