Several months ago, 25 students in the Kansas University masters of business administration program became concerned about actions and policies within the KU School of Business and began asking questions.
These were not irresponsible freshmen, but mature graduate student men and women concerned about the importance of an excellent education and the cost of this education. They wanted a school with vision and strong leadership, and they thought they were being shortchanged.
They sought information about the “differential tuition” plan, which was started in the Business School in 2004. During the past six years, business students have paid close to $32 million in extra fees to provide a superior education. There has been no audit of these funds as called for in the initial organizing plan.
The students also were concerned about the need for many business majors to travel to KU’s Edwards Campus in Kansas City to take required courses that were not offered at KU’s Lawrence campus. This took additional time and expense for students and time away from jobs they had to help pay their college expenses. It also often meant an extra semester or two to meet the requirements for a degree. None of this is mentioned in the promotional materials touting a Business School degree at KU. The students also were concerned about what they thought was a lack of leadership and vision within the school.
Yet another factor bothering the students was the fact the school had lost its “CIBER” program. KU had been one of only 32 business schools in the country to have this prestigious designation, intended to strengthen a school’s international program — and was the only school of the 32 not to have its program recertified.
The MBA students made their concerns known to KU Business School officials. Members of the Kansas Board of Regents, legislators and others also were told of this concern, and there was little, if any, meaningful response. In fact, several KU spokespeople and others close to the provost’s office tried to give the students the runaround.
Next, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little gave a report to the regents that almost echoed the report KU Business School Dean Bill Fuerst had given the chancellor to explain the student unrest. He indicated everything was fine and under control, and the chancellor repeated this message to the regents. Again, it was an effort to pooh-pooh the students, just troublemakers.
Learning of the chancellor’s report, the students sent their own report to the regents and some legislators, detailing where both the chancellor and the provost had failed to tell the complete story. They countered many of the positions and justifications that had been offered by the chancellor and dean. This was a damning rebuttal.
Perhaps this got the attention of regents or legislators because it appears they told KU officials to take action and get to the bottom of the problem. Apparently, they realized the seriousness of the situation and either the chancellor or provost decided now was the best time for Dean Fuerst to announce his resignation.
In the eyes of some knowledgeable individuals, the school and the university could face extremely harmful repercussions if there was not immediate corrective action.
The “differential tuition” was the original problem that attracted the students’ attention, but the cold shoulder they received from the chancellor, dean, provost and regents caused the students to look deeper into the Business School environment. It also caused some in other schools to question whether the millions of dollars collected in differential tuition in their schools had been used for purposes not outlined when the fees were approved.
The MBA students insisted on an impartial, independent audit, one far more independent than the one orchestrated by KU athletics officials in their own ticket scandal.
Apparently due to the Business School situation, most, if not all, other schools collecting differential tuition have initiated, or soon will initiate, audits of their own programs. This would not have happened without the MBA students’ efforts and courage.
It isn’t known what university official — either the chancellor or provost — decided to announce the dean’s “resignation” with the generous fringe benefit that he would remain dean until the end of the school year and would continue as a member of the business faculty. He will be given a special assignment to improve relationships between the Business School and corporate and business leaders.
He also will focus on raising money for a new School of Business building, along with working on a new university-wide capital campaign. This new role for Fuerst raises some interesting questions.
One of the complaints about the dean, particularly among influential and fiscally generous alumni is that Fuerst was ineffective and lazy in raising money for the school and a new building to house it. Also, he failed to develop strong, respectful relations with influential alumni.
Now, the provost has given Fuerst an assignment to raise money and build strong alumni/business relationships, two areas in which he has been weak and angered many donors and potential donors.
KU officials tried to sweep the differential tuition and KU Business School leadership issues under the rug. This being the case, some in Strong Hall and in other offices are likely to suggest students shouldn’t get any ideas about investigating concerns about how their particular schools or the university should be run. They don’t want the student-led Business School situation to be emulated by students in other schools.
Too much whistle-blowing probably makes many KU officials nervous. KU already has had enough embarrassing situations: the KU Hospital giveaway effort, the KU athletics ticket scandal and, now, the differential tuition mess that results in a dean’s resignation.
Students may be told — in one way or another — to keep their noses out of administrative and academic matters.
The upcoming role of the dean presents an interesting situation. Even though university officials will try to paint a different picture of Fuerst’s resignation, it would not have happened at this time without the dean’s own MBA students calling for his resignation.
These graduate students went way out on a limb. How can there be any assurance that the dean, now or after he becomes just a faculty member, or those faculty members loyal to the dean in one way or another won’t retaliate against the students?
It is not a healthy situation.
Fuerst should have been allowed to resign or step aside immediately and to hold off on any teaching responsibilities for a semester or two.
Consider what may have continued in the Business School and perhaps in some other schools, if the 25 MBA students had not spoken out!
Unfortunately, nothing was said in the KU announcement about Fuerst’s resignation relative to the investigation or audit about the use of differential tuition funds. Where and how was the money spent? Who was hired and why was the student oversight committee abandoned? Have any laws been broken?
This situation demands continuation of a deep and independent investigation and audit. There can be no “sweeping under the rug” on this matter.
Once again, congratulations to the very serious, committed and brave MBA students.
P.S. — It should be noted both Chancellor Gray-Little and Provost Jeffrey Vitter inherited their respective problems. The athletics department mess and Lew Perkins’ performance and the Bill Fuerst/Business School problem were allowed to develop under the leadership of Chancellor Robert Hemenway, Provost Richard Lariviere and Interim Provost Danny Anderson.
Hopefully, Gray-Little and Vitter will be far more alert and demanding. KU now is paying a high price for the ineffective and neglectful manner of past KU administrators, as well as complacent members of the Board of Regents who are supposed to oversee the state’s universities.