In July 2018, I had an opportunity to visit Cornell SC Johnson College of Business and its constituent Schools meeting their deans, directors and other senior administrators. The opportunity was provided by Global Business School Network (GBSN) as an alternative to their Developing Deans Program. Here are my reflections based on my interactions and meetings at Cornell.
Cornell SC Johnson College of Business is an Ivy League business school that boasts a broad portfolio of academic programs. Consistently ranked as one of the top business schools in the world (global rank 17 according to FT rankings 2018), the College is known for its cutting-edge pedagogy, community commitment, real-world business immersions, small class sizes and highly selective recruitment.
Transitions within Institutions
The College is currently undergoing important transition in the aftermath of the integration of its three schools, i.e., Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, the School of Hotel Administration, and the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management. Each of these Schools has its own unique history, specialization and strengths. Integration of these Schools into a College has merits of synergy and structure. However, such restructure also has an element of standardization and centralization. There are associated issues of uncertainty and anxiety, for example, in terms of varying tenure standards and performance expectations. Faculty members in each of these Schools previously had a different understanding and tradition of focus on business engagement, publications in scholarly or practitioner journals, and teaching or research orientation. Thus, there are likely to be some trade offs in the near future which may not be so easy. The situation that Johnson College is currently facing is not too different from the situation that I faced when I joined LUMS Suleman Dawood School of Business as its Dean.
The challenge that I faced was that while my School was founded in 1986 with a teaching and business engagement orientation, in 2007 it started reorienting itself towards research leadership. In 2010, the School started hiring faculty members on tenure track. However, there remained a lack of clarity about indicative tenure standards or performance expectations for tenure decisions.
My Associate Deans and I had to handle this delicate situation through discussions and consultations at multiple levels to develop indicative tenure standards, and naturally it was not an easy task. There were and are significant anxieties. What I learned from my discussions at Cornell is as follows:
- Evolving performance expectations and associated faculty anxieties is a universal challenge facing higher education institutions across the globe
- While consideration ought to be given to retaining traditional strengths in teaching and business engagement, tenure cannot be granted to anyone with poor research credentials
- Communication and flexibility are of paramount importance in managing faculty and organizational politics
I spent three full days in meeting various faculty and staff administrators at Cornell and had candid conversations with them regarding their current agendas, strategies and challenges. The historical origins, growth and achievements of Cornell encouraged me to weave similar dreams about my business school and its possible contributions in South Asia.
Evolving performance expectations and associated faculty anxieties
Dean Joe Thomas’s, Interim Dean, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, suggestions about identifying different standards and career trajectories for tenure-track and non-tenure track faculty member, and research rewards in the shape of 1/9th of salary to improve faculty retention and motivation, were really thought provoking.
Cathy Enz, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, School of Hospitality Administration, indicated that Cornell is careful about teaching quality and workload. She indicated that Cornell makes payments to faculty members for teaching over their allocated workload. Perhaps we at LUMS may consider this possibility to address issues of teaching quality by some of our adjunct faculty members. Cathy also opined that the future of academic programs in business schools lies in shorter case studies, experiential learning, interactional and personalized learning, and group work. I agree and think that the future of education, including business education, lies in the humanity of learning and its impact on wider society.
Brad Walp, Executive Director of Enrollment Management, explained the process of student recruitment at Cornell from, leads to prospects to yield. The process takes place in close coordination with the Marketing and Communication department. Brad explained that once a student meets the minimum threshold (of admission standards), positive action is considered (as is common practice across Ivy League universities) to meet diversity and composition goals. While as a diversity scholar, I understand the importance of positive action, some faculty members at LUMS are concerned that this may be a breach of merit. In my assessment, there is a need for open debates on this topic in order to broaden our understanding of diversity. I take this as an opportunity worth investment of time and effort.
Brad also explained that there is no GMAT/GRE requirement for Executive MBA applicants and in fact GMAT/GRE is waived even for MBA if a student has completed their undergraduate degree from a credible school. In my view, we should consider a similar policy at LUMS, in order to increase our recruitments without compromising quality.
Virtual and Online Courses
Joe Ellis, Director of Faculty Engagement, eCornell, explained the virtual and online courses and program being offered at Cornell. LUMS is far behind in this aspect. In my view, we should consider offering at least one course at the undergraduate and/or MBA level and gradually increase our online offerings. For that, we will need not only IT infrastructure but also a champion faculty member.
Cynthia Saunders-Cheatham, Executive Director of the Career Management Center, explained the key role being played by the MBA Immersion program (in the second semester) with five specializations, namely: marketing, sustainability, financial investment, operations, and digital technology. I like the idea and believe that the experiential learning program at LUMS MBA may be slightly modified to create this provision. This will have a healthy effect on the employability and career trajectory of our graduates.
Amanda Shaw, Assistant Dean, Student Services, offered valuable suggestions about student advisement, and the expertise available by the National Clearinghouse for Academic Advising. She also shared the ideas of ‘Come ask me’ and ‘Dine with a Professor’ initiatives at Cornell to improve faculty-student interactions. I would like to implement a similar program at my School.
Rohit Verma, Dean of External Relations, explained corporate relations activities at Cornell which comprise all external relations (except alumni relations) and are based on active engagement with about 600 corporations, recruitment centers, research groups, etc. Rohit expressed interest in the international visiting faculty program at LUMS, and also encouraged LUMS faculty members to apply for one month to one year visiting scholar program at Cornell.
Ed McLaughlin, Robert G. Tobin Professor of Marketing, Director, Cornell Food Industry Management Program, shared his experiences of managing food industry related executive education program at Cornell and expressed interest in visiting and possible participation in food related program at LUMS.
Executive Education Strategies
Mike Nowlis, Associate Dean for Executive MBA Programs, shared his expertise in executive education and executive MBA. In particular, he shared Cornell’s experiences in terms of board-style virtual classroom, known as Cornell Executive MBA Americas. He very kindly agreed to provide support and guidance to EMBA directors at LUMS and also expressed his willingness to visit LUMS.
Catherine Perkins and Nancy Weislogel, Directors of Executive Education, shared their strategies and issues in terms of executive education. Several of the issues, e.g., concentration of a few faculty members with limited opportunities for younger faculty members, are common across Cornell and LUMS and there are no easy solutions. A key element of executive education at Cornell is online programs. LUMS does not yet have the willingness and ability to design and offer online executive education. We need to move in that direction.
Communications & Marketing
Barbara Scott, Chief Marketing Officer, shared the practice of student takeover at Cornell’s social media accounts (Instagram, Facebook, etc). In my view, subject to due diligence or moderation, this is a great idea as millennials have a better understanding of how to package and disseminate information. Barbara also shared her current emphasis on Cornell Thought Leadership series (faculty expert comment series similar to Knowledge at Wharton) as a conduit for dissemination, impact and brand recognition. At LUMS, we have a similar series which we call ‘SDSB Impact’.
Debbi Kruszewski, Executive Director of Web Development and Enterprise Systems, shared the benefits of using Salesforce CRM in managing marketing, external relations, admission and other processes at Cornell.
Shanjun Li, Associate Professor and Co-Director, Cornell Institute for China Economic Research, explained aims and activities at Cornell Institute for China Economic Research. He also discussed the opportunity for foreign students to spend a few weeks or summer at Cornell and complete some courses related to his institute. He also showed interest in exploring possible collaboration with China Pakistan Management Initiative (CPMI) at LUMS.
The Future of the MBA
Vishal Gaur, Associate Dean for MBA Programs, explained the history and activities of MBA Program at Cornell, and the areas of his responsibility, namely: admissions, student services, leadership programming, diversity and inclusion, and career management. He mentioned that the correlation between GMAT score and GPA is not strong. He noted that the future of MBA lies in start-ups, Fin-tech and big data. He also mentioned the Alumni referral program as a part of MBA admission process at Cornell.
My meetings with Dean Joe Thomas and Dean Lynn Wooten were particularly insightful given that they understand the issues of the increasingly competitive academic landscape, faculty preferences, trustees’ role and organizational politics, some of which are also relevant to LUMS.
Trustee and Alumni Relations
Regarding trustees’ and alumni’s role, Jon Denison’s, Associate Dean, Alumni Affairs and Development, advice “nose in, fingers out” was really relevant. His emphasis on trifactor of alumni, current students and prospective students, and the key role of sense of community in alumni relations, was particularly invaluable.
Increasingly Competitive Academic Landscape
Given that in the past two years, LUMS business school has made significant progress in terms of some of the key performance indicators including number of new case studies and A-ranked journal papers written by our faculty members, quality and number of MBA and undergraduate recruitments, salary and placement of MBA and BSc graduates, School’s international ranking (number one in Pakistan and amongst top 8 in South Asia), progress towards AACSB accreditation, acceptance of our cases by Harvard Business Publishing, revenue and breadth of executive education programs, etc., I am very hopeful that we will be able to make further progress on these and other parameters in the future. In this backdrop, we will be keen to incorporate and experiment some of the best practices at Cornell and other successful business schools across the globe.
My meetings at Cornell have given me further clarity and reassurance in terms of our current direction at LUMS, i.e., concurrent emphasis on regional leadership in business engagement, teaching excellence and research; progress towards AACSB accreditation; formalization and implementation of our five-year strategic plan; enablement and implementation of indicative tenure standards; and flexibility and open communication consistent with the spirit of a shared governance school.
I would say that visiting another business school, whether established or progressing, is an invaluable experience. It provides us with an opportunity to learn from best practices, strategies and issues, as well as cultivate important academic and professional networks at many levels. I am thankful to GBSN for organizing this ‘study trip’ and would urge them to continue to offer such opportunities to Deans and Directors of business schools particularly in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Last but not least, I am thankful to Gail Fink, Director of International University Relations and Public Engagement at Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, for a very well planned visit and pleasurable company.
Jawad Syed, PhD is the Dean and a Professor at the Suleman Dawood School of Business, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) in Lahore, Pakistan.