Wharton's director of MBA admissions resigns
Last week, The Wall Street Journal pointed out how Wharton has 'lost its luster'
October 2, 2013, 3:28 pm·
Amidst claims that the Wharton School has lost some of its luster, Ankur Kumar, Wharton’s director of MBA admissions and financial aid, announced on Wednesday that she plans to resign at the end of the week.
Kumar said in an email to colleagues that her sudden announcement — which, coming in the middle of admissions season, is highly unusual — was not a response to recent media coverage of Wharton. On Sept. 27, The Wall Street Journal published an article — titled “What’s Wrong With Wharton?” — in which several business school consultants weighed in on why the University has seen a 12-percent drop in MBA applications over the past four years.
“This is not a decision I made impetuously,” Kumar said in Wednesday’s email, noting that she has been looking for jobs in New York City over the past several months. “I did not want to start an application cycle that I could not commit to finishing. Nothing would be less fair to my team, the institution and our applicants, alumni and other important stakeholders.”
Wharton closed out its first round of MBA applications on Tuesday; the next round ends in January. As of press time, Kumar had not responded to multiple requests for comment.
In another email to students and faculty on Wednesday, Wharton Dean Thomas Robertson — who announced last semester that he plans to step down in June 2014 — said that Maryellen Lamb will now head the MBA admissions team. Lamb was recently named deputy vice dean for MBA admissions, financial aid and career management.
Although Wharton officials did not draw any explicit connection between the Journal article and Kumar’s resignation, some MBA consultants said that the close timing of the two raises questions.
“I think the article clearly set off some alarm bells,” said Jeremy Shinewald, founder of mbaMission, an admissions advisory firm. “It upset students, alumni and administrators, and the school had to be perceived as taking action.”
In the Journal article, some consultants said that Wharton’s image as a training ground for students looking to pursue top jobs in finance on Wall Street — compared to peer business schools like those at Harvard and Stanford universities, which have focused more attention on the growing technology and entrepreneurship sectors — may be holding it back.
This year, in comparison to application bumps of 3.9 percent and 5.8 percent at Harvard and Stanford’s MBA programs, respectively, Wharton’s pool dropped by 5.8 percent.
Wharton officials responded to the Journal article by stressing quality over quantity, saying that the school’s applicant pool, while smaller in recent years, is as strong as it has ever been.
In the days following the Journal article, there has been talk in the MBA admissions community of “tremendous internal hand-wringing” among top Wharton administrators, Shinewald said. “The timing of this all would suggest that [Kumar] didn’t politely resign, even if that’s the way they’re going to present it,” he said.
When Lamb takes over for Kumar — a transition that will be made official on Friday — she will become Wharton’s fifth MBA admissions director over the past decade. Rose Martinelli, Thomas Caleel and J.J. Cutler all held the post before Kumar, who came to the helm of the admissions office in 2011. The MBA admissions directors at Harvard and Stanford have held their position for more than a decade.
The lack of continuity among Wharton’s admissions leadership, said Alex Chu, an MBA admissions consultant, is cause for concern. “The admissions office is a sort of storefront for applicants,” said Chu, the founder of MBA Apply and a 2001 Wharton MBA recipient. “If you have the sort of frequent turnover that the Wharton office has had, the results are going to speak for themselves.”
There has been a noticeable change in the culture of Wharton admissions since Martinelli left to head MBA admissions at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business in 2005, Chu added. “The director of admissions at any business school is a top leadership position, but there’s been a sense [following Martinelli’s departure] that a lot of people in the administration don’t view the position that way,” he said.
In the wake of her resignation announcement on Wednesday, Kumar has received praise from some colleagues and students at Wharton. Robertson credited her with helping to usher in record-breaking numbers of female students; five years in a row, women have made up 40 percent or more of the MBA class.
“I’ve always felt that she’s done a good job, both with admissions and financial aid,” said Jackson Dunlap, an MBA student who serves as president of the Wharton Graduate Association.
While the Journal article has made waves throughout the MBA community, Dunlap said he thinks that the “damage to the Wharton brand” has been overstated.
“It’s been a good chance for us all to reflect on the situation,” he said, “but coming out of it, I think the Wharton brand is still as strong as it’s ever been.”