Three months ago Nancy Thornborrow was told her position as dean of the graduate business program would be terminated after June, according to professors in the Economic department. The College says this was a misunderstanding based on inaccurate information.
Thornborrow will remain Dean of the Lorey I. Lokey Graduate School of Business until a replacement is found, according to an e-mail President Janet Holmgren sent to specific members of the campus community on Dec. 12.
Holmgren said she planned to follow up her “confidential conversation” with Provost Sandra Greer and Thornborrow on Nov. 5 with “further consultations” with both the Faculty Executive Committee and the Economics department, in her e-mail sent out to College administrators, the faculty, Associated Students of Mills College (ASMC) and The Campanil.
But she said before such meetings occurred, “many rumors and accusations” circulated campus.
Economics professors Roger Sparks and Siobhan Reilly held a meeting with President Janet Holmgren on Dec. 17. According to Sparks, during the meeting Holmgren said she never told Thornborrow she would be replaced, only that it was “just a private discussion about the possibility of a changeover.”
Yet Sparks said that in meeting with Greer in November, the Provost told him Thornborrow’s removal had been decided and could not be changed.
“So we went from an irreversible decision, to it wasn’t a decision at all,” Sparks said, adding that Holmgren told him professors within the Economics department had “completely misunderstood.”
When Sparks and Reilly said they told Holmgren her account contradicted what they heard from both Thornborrow and Greer, the President then questioned whether they should have believed either woman.
Thornborrow, who was appointed dean of the program in 2005, could not be reached for further comment.
In an interview, Holmgren said the search for a new dean will begin in Fall 2009.
Both Sparks and Reilly said Economics professors are fighting for Thornborrow because of her exceptional leadership within the department toward both students and staff.
“We won a little bit of a concession. It gives us a little bit more time, and we’ll keep struggling to make the MBA program something we can be proud of,” Sparks said.
Holmgren said Thornborrow will “play a very important role in the next phases of the Graduate School of Business.”
Additionally, the program will undergo its first in-depth program review this spring.
“For some very odd reason, its conclusions won’t affect whether we search for a new dean. That’s been decided without the benefit of an objective review,” Reilly said.
Sparks added that “the review might conclude that the best person to be the dean of the business school is the person who is in that spot now.”
Holmgren said Thornborrow had expressed her desire to step down from the deanship and resume teaching Economics courses, and that the College is intent on making the transition smooth.
“We were in fact planning to have the review, and we were planning to have a search as well-both of those things were part of the plan. And we’ve just timed them a little bit differently,” she said.
Sparks and Reilly said they are concerned with the future of the business school-both its direction and economic standing at a time when colleges across the nation are being hit hard financially.
“In her office we asked her several times what her vision was for the business school, what changes she was contemplating, what had provoked this need for new leadership, and she declined to answer those questions,” Reilly said.
Holmgren said she would not comment on their conversation, adding that it was “uncollegial” to discuss private matters in public.
Reilly also said the MBA program was cleverly designed to run on a very lean budget compared to business schools nationally, especially with regards to faculty salaries. But she said Holmgren was spending resources on things that aren’t needed, including a new dean.
Reilly said Mills’ MBA program has a lot of potential and virtually no competition due to its focus on women.
“There’s a huge market out there-it’s called women who were always second class citizens in business schools,” she said.
Holmgren said, “Ultimately, I would like to see our business school be an international model for business education in the 21st century, with women at the core, rather than on the periphery.”