How to handle dissatisfied customers and stakeholders is Business 101. And the University of Wisconsin School of Business could write a case study on just that after the academic year it has had. Last fall, the school announced it would suspend its full-time MBA program. After swift backlash from alums and students alike, the school backpedalled and announced it would not, in fact, suspend the full-time MBA program. Then the school’s dean, Anne Massey, resigned after less than a year on the job. Now the school is being called out by a soon-to-graduate business major for “not adequately” valuing student input.
In a scathing opinion piece published in the university newspaper in March, The Daily Cardinal, Deena Whitwam, a graduating senior at the Wisconsin School of Business and shared governance chair for the Associated Students of Wisconsin, said her voice was “not respected” in a meeting with Interim Dean Barry Gerhart about establishing a student advisory committee with the dean’s office. But the frustration for Whitwam goes back to the end of 2017, when she alleges students were left out of the hiring process of an interim dean.
During the hiring of Massey, Whitwam and other students were involved in the process, Whitwam says. However, “When Dean Gerhart was selected as interim dean, students were not involved in the process,” she tells P&Q on a phone call. At that time, Whitwam reached out to Sarah Mangelsdorf, the University of Wisconsin provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs. According to Whitwam, Mangelsdorf suggested reaching out to Gerhart to “get to know him.” Before Massey resigned as dean, Whitwam says she and other students were working to establish the student advisory committee. But after Massey’s resignation, they unsuccessfully attempted to continue it with Gerhart.
DEAN ‘WAS NOT INTERESTED IN UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS’
On March 1, 2017, Whitwam, Anders Larsen, who is the president of the Wisconsin Undergraduate Business Council and Jeremy Swanson, a student council representative for the Associated Students of Wisconsin all met with Gerhart with a proposal for a dean’s advisory committee. According to Whitwam, Gerhart asked for more time to consider the proposal. Two weeks later, On March 15, the students met again with Gerhart, this time with a draft proposal. “He (Gerhart) didn’t even look at the document. He put his papers on top of it and just told us that it wasn’t going to work,” Whitwam says.
Whitwam says she then proposed establishing the shared governance committee with a different administrator in the School of Business, but Gerhart rejected that as well. “This was an awkward meeting,” Whitwam wrote in The Daily Cardinal. “Gerhart brought us all to his office and then failed to prepare specific reasons as to why this committee would not work. Simply, he was not interested in undergraduate students.”
According to Whitwam’s piece, the University of Wisconsin has over 70 student advisory committees as part of the school’s shared governance. “Wisconsin is the pinnacle of shared governance,” Whitwam says. But, according to Whitwam, the School of Business has zero shared governance participation. However, Whitwam maintains, schools like the School of Education and the College of Agricultural Life Sciences have student-elected committees and advisory boards working alongside the deans.
UNDERGRADUATE BUSINESS COUNCIL MEETING WITH DEAN
Still, Larsen, who was also in both meetings saw it a different way.
“As a participant of that meeting, I can tell you that Deena’s viewpoints were incredibly one-sided and biased to her role in Associated Students of Madison, our central UW-Madison student government,” Larsen said in an email to P&Q.
While Larsen confirms Gerhart did decline any potential of a shared governance committee established by the Associated Students of Madison, he “no way declined the idea of having student voices in decisions being made.” Larsen says Gerhart “referenced” the meetings he has already had with the Undergraduate Business Council and Graduate Business Council to garner feedback from students, which Larsen says “makes intuitive sense.”
“Throughout my involvement in Undergraduate Business Council, we have engaged with Deans Ortalo-Magne and Massey on a regular basis,” Larsen wrote in the email. “They have both brought proposals to us for feedback and genuinely wanted our viewpoints to ensure they were making the best decision for the school. With Dean Gerhart, our experience has been no different. Already in his short tenure, we have met with him on several occasions to share initiatives, give feedback, and seek opportunities for increased collaboration. These conversations are always welcomed by administrators and I, nor my members, have ever faced any kind of pushback.”
WISCONSIN SCHOOL OF BUSINESS HAS ‘STRONG TRADITION OF SHARED GOVERNANCE,’ SCHOOL SAYS
According to a prepared statement from the school, the School of Business has a “strong tradition of shared governance.”
“As the Wisconsin School of Business begins to execute on strategic initiatives to move the school forward, we will respect our long history of shared governance,” the statement, which was emailed to P&Q, reads. “When it comes to academic decisions, there is student representation on the standing curriculum committees. We recognize the need to communicate with our passionate stakeholders that include students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends. The Wisconsin School of Business Dean and other school leaders meet regularly with both the Wisconsin School of Business undergraduate and graduate student government.”
But for Whitwam, who will officially end her term as shared governance chair on May 1, the meeting and her waning time in leadership is “disheartening,” she says.
“It’s just looking like Dean Gerhart doesn’t see the value in student voice,” Whitwam says.