Posted on LieStopper May 30, 2012 by DukeCheck
In a major blow to the Brodhead Administration’s grandiose international ambitions, the Fuqua Business School announced late Wednesday afternoon that it is cancelling the Masters in Management Studies degree program (MMS) that is scheduled to begin in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in just a few days.
The announcement comes just nine months after Duke waged an unprecedented promotion campaign that underscored the importance of this new program and its strategic place in Duke’s global ambitions — even putting Coach K and the men’s basketball team in Dubai for an exhibition game amid much hype about championship prospects in the 2011-12 season.
This degree program is precisely the same as one planned for the backwater of Kunshan. This is, in fact, the first degree granting program for China that cleared the Academic Council and won final approval from the Board of Trustees. The late afternoon, bare-bones announcement from Fuqua — made after it was too late for reporters to call for additional details or ask questions — does not hint at all if the unspecified problems encountered in Dubai are also arising in China.
Dubai and Kunshan were to be just the first outposts for the MMS degree. Before he was relieved of his position, Fuqua Dean Blair Sheppard outlined for the Academic Council a “template” so the program could rapidly be added in additional cities all over the world. The Council listened but told Sheppard he had to gain its approval city-by-city.
The cancellation announcement did not mention the students who planned to begin school during June — and how their career plans are now upended. It did not say how many had signed up, whether they are just learning of the cancellation, or if Fuqua made the decision in advance and withheld announcing it publicly.
Neither is there any indication that Fuqua is prepared to help these students. The Dubai classes (as well as classes in other cities) were to be in English, so one option might be to make it possible for them to come to Durham, where a similar MMS degree will be offered starting in the fall. But that’s on the Duke Check list of possibilities — not mentioned by Fuqua.
The announcement held open a vague prospect that this program might be offered in the indefinite future in Dubai. To be precise, the official announcement only said the Dubai program is “on hold.” Which is the same as a young lady’s telling her father that she is a little ways along to being pregnant.
Interestingly, the announcement did not come from Dean Bill Boulding, who throttled back severely on some of Sheppard’s wild expansion plans after succeding him. We believe, however, that Boulding did champion the Dubai start-up.
The “tell them the bad news” assignment went to Senior Associate Dean Jennifer Francis. That’s an old management school trick to try to deflect responsibility rather than accepting accountability, and it is also a device to try to underplay the significance of an announcement.
Francis has carried some of Sheppard’s ideas through the Academic Council and is believed to have strattled loyalty to Sheppard and Boulding. She, was, however, a member of, and presumably chair of (these things are held very tight) a special Fuqua faculty committee that put cold water on the MMS program that ultimately won approval for Kunshan.
Along with other committee members, Francis threw a public hissy fit when DukeCheck published the committee’s confidential report.
Francis on Dubai: “Working through the logistics with our partners and sponsors has turned out to be more complex than originally anticipated.”
And apparently a bitter pill for Fuqua’s leadership to come to terms with and swallow, waiting until classes were about to begin and never hinting earlier of swelling problems. Early Thursday morning, a Deputy DukeChecker shook his/her head (we never reveal anything about the Deputies, the Allen Building Mole, or a new person, Mole 2). Imagine, the Deputy said, if a major American business had planned to open manufacturing in June — and on the 30th day of May had pulled the rug. Its stock would tumble.
So far as we can determine, Duke PR did not send out a general announcement to the news media. There is nothing posted either on the university-wide PR site, nor on Fuqua’s. There was a brief article posted on DukeToday, the on-line “newspaper” designed principally for employees, called to our attention immediately by a Loyal Reader. The Chronicle, publishing just once a week, now on Thursdays, missed the story. Shhhh. Don’t tell anyone!
Boulding was quoted down in the announcement talking about challenges, with no specifics. “As a global business school, we embed and connect in key regions not only to teach but also to learn. Bold initiatives — like launching a degree program in another part of the world — never come easy.”
The Allen Building Mole told us late Wednesday evening that Fuqua’s finances are taking a bloodbath because of this decision. Fuqua had Durham professors scheduled for the degree program in Dubai — as well as a larger number of adjuncts — all of whom presumably will be paid. In addition, the school waged a vigorous advertising campaign — with a full time staff in Dubai for marketing, admissions and program delivery. The staff also serves some smaller Fuqua programs, including a nine-day stop over by the hyped Cross-Continent MBA program that hopscotches from city to city.
There are also expensive rentals of facilities — hotel rooms. While we do not know what ground-work was done in Dubai, frequently Fuqua will construct hotel ballrooms with terraced seats and break out rooms — at substantial expense to mimic a campus lecture hall environment.
The bad financial news could not have come at a worse time. DukeCheck learned when internal Fuqua faculty reports were leaked to us last June that in four years under Sheppard, there was nothing but red ink. The year just ending was not forecast to be any better. Now, another costly blow.
Moreover, Fuqua is sure to feel the effects of the clandestine moves — so far not announced — that are occurring for the new budget starting July 1. With endowment earnings off sharply, education units all over the campus are experiencing cutbacks, the dimensions of which are still secret.
The financial cost is not all. As has been the case with Kunshan, the desire to go in all directions around the world at once has caused the Administration to lose focus on Durham.
The masters degree– the MMS — that was cancelled for Dubai is, as we noted, offered in Durham. We believe it will begin its third year in the fall semester. Originally there was to be a three-year trial, but the ever ebullient deans of Fuqua got the Academic Council to give final approval after only 14 months.
In the business world, the MMS degree is unproven and controversial.
The idea is for students to enroll in the masters degree program immediately after getting their undergraduate degree. This one year program is far less rigorous than the traditional two-year MBA, which usually embraces students who have had several years of business experience after college. Students in the traditional MBA often have support of their corporate employers – who may continue their salary, pay tuition or offer stipends. But students in the one year program pay their own way.
There is continuing uncertainty as to the value of the Masters Lite degree, as some call it. As was discussed in conjunction with the expansion to Kunshan, no one knows if employers will value this degree or if students who take it will see their careers accelerate. Many people think the Masters Lite degree was born out of the business school’s desire to add a degree-granting program — snapping up more tuition revenue — without spending much money, and the MMS emerged.
The degree has proven popular and attracted students because of the lack-luster job market: an alternative for a student leaving college, rather than taking a mundane job. What will happen when the economy perks up is anyone’s guess.
As for the similar program in China, like everything in Kunshan, the timetable has danced around, not only because of shoddy construction and other delays, but because the Chinese government has stalled its approval of Duke Kunshan University. We are now on Day 145 since President Brodhead told us approval was imminent, just to mention the latest timetable deadline. Fuqua, in its latest version, had hoped to start up the masters program in China a year from now.
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