Rowan College Is Really Getting Down To Business The Business School Is Making A Push For National Accreditation. A Former Ceo Is Leading The Charge.

Posted: January 29, 1996

GLASSBORO — Madly scribbling an equation on a dry-erase board, Steven A. McNeil, dean of the Rowan College School of Business, looks the part of a professor teaching undergraduates a business lesson.

This, though, is his pitch for the school's future, coming straight from a former Campbell Soup Co. corporate officer, a one-time Bumble Bee Tuna & Seafood president, and a past Haagen-Daz North America general manager.

His formula: A common body of knowledge plus skills plus experience divided by a liberal-arts education equals student success.

Just what that means and how to put it into practice is every bit as complicated as it sounds, especially for the two dozen faculty members on the assembly lines who are churning out new corporate workers each May. Figuring it out will require the business school to take a hard look at itself and undergo a four-year accreditation process that one management professor has likened to a lengthy, $5,000-a-year session with a psychiatrist.

Since receiving one of the largest donations ever given to a public institution nearly four years ago, Rowan College has been all about change. Although that money was not earmarked for the School of Business, the atmosphere of change means that a lifelong businessman, not an academic, is leading the way.

McNeil, who came on board in August 1994, has stolen a page from industry handbooks by instituting total quality management, which requires continuous self-evaluation of how well the faculty are doing their jobs. Tied to that is accreditation through the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business, a process that already has made some faculty members bristle and promises further tension as the school decides where it is going.

``There is a lot of chaos, a lot of uncertainty, and that's very stressful,'' said management professor Razelle Frankl, although she still supports the accreditation drive. The school is already accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.

Rowan has company in its quest. Rutgers University received accreditation a year ago, joining more than 300 of the nation's 1,300 undergraduate programs. Four others in the state - Trenton State College, Monmouth University, Fairleigh Dickinson University and the New Jersey Institute of Technology - are pursuing it.

That competition is driving Rowan's pursuit, in part because certification is such an effective marketing tool. Accredited business schools tend to have more faculty with doctoral degrees, and firms tend to look more favorably at graduates from those schools.

Dozens more business schools across the country are also in the running, thanks to looser standards that emphasize adhering to the college mission and setting up a process of continuous reevaluation - not simply meeting strict criteria on admissions standards and faculty credentials.

``The old way inhibited innovation and creativity,'' said Charles Hickman, spokesman for the St. Louis-based assembly. ``It forced all kinds of schools into a single format.''

Rowan considers itself a teaching institution that prepares students to work in regional business, its mission statement declares. Perhaps more telling, though, was the college's decision to hire McNeil - a move aimed at linking the college with local industry.

Colleges and businesses are ``suspicious of each other,'' McNeil, 53, said last week. ``They don't communicate. When I was in industry, we spent millions of dollars retraining graduates because business schools didn't do it.''

The school will apply for accreditation later this year, but changes are already happening.

McNeil started by forming advisory committees composed of area corporate presidents or chief executive officers. They then drew up a laundry list of qualities they look for in graduates, includingteamwork, knowledge of ethics and diversity, even business etiquette and proper grooming. That's where McNeil found his formula.

The school will formalize his equation into more graduation requirements, perhaps including an internship or a broad introductory course on everything from economics to politics. Teaching about diversity also will be emphasized to help graduates understand an increasingly global corporate world.

The key, though, to changing the business school is changing the faculty's approach - something McNeil wants the professors themselves to do.

He assigned the faculty to six working groups that are studying formal ways to, for example, measure results, identify technological needs, revise the core curriculum and refine the mission statement. In addition, faculty have been asked to turn in short- and long-term working plans. Most have agreed to optional teaching evaluations.

The majority of the faculty members appears to agree with the school's direction. But the changes have put considerable strain on them, and some teachers have wondered whether their input will take a back seat to outside accreditors.

A few professors, for example, bristled about a list distributed to faculty members in December that labeled every professor qualified or unqualified depending solely on how much research they publish each year, according to accreditation guidelines. While school officials called it an informal notification, McNeil acknowledges that faculty will need to do more publishing.

``It's going to be demanding,'' said William Enslin, a management professor. ``But I think the rewards for everybody are going to be well worth it.''

Others are more certain: ``To me it's not a matter of choice,'' said Berhe Habte-Giorgis, a marketing professor. ``It's something that forces us to look at what we're doing and to take a second look at it. Nature will take care of us if we don't.''

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