Divisive U of I business school dean departs

August 18, 2008

Six current and former University of Indianapolis professors who in late 2006 alleged business school dean Mitch Shapiro violated hiring practices and created a hostile work environment got what they wanted last month.

Shapiro resigned for an unspecified job in the business world.

Also gone are two of the professors, who allege the university never fully vetted their grievance.

William "Butch" Fennema, an associate business professor, said he finally had enough and decided to resign a few weeks ago.

Fennema said the university representatives investigating the grievance refused to meet if faculty members brought their own attorneys to the meetings.

"It was kind of obvious at the start they were going to sweep it under the carpet," said Fennema, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who taught human resources and management at U of I.

He said his teaching contract had been renewed for the upcoming year, but, "I couldn't stand it anymore. I had to leave."

Another of the professors who signed the grievance was given administrative duties and also resigned, he said.

University officials would not discuss the grievance.

Faculty members were told July 7 of Shapiro's decision to return to private business, though where he went wasn't disclosed.

"After four years of service as Dean of the School of Business, our friend and colleague, Mitch Shapiro, has decided to leave UIndy to pursue international business opportunities," wrote Deborah W. Balogh, provost and vice president for academic affairs at the 4,200-student campus founded in 1902 by the United Methodist Church.

"As you know, Mitch has been very active internationally and these opportunities, some of which are in China, will necessitate extensive travel and time away from campus. We all want to have a chance to congratulate Mitch for his accomplishments as Dean and wish him well with his new ventures."

One of Shapiro's accomplishments, according to U of I, was in helping the university form ties--for business and language studies--with China's Ningbo Institute of Technology at Zhejiang University.

Asked if the grievance factored into Shapiro's decision to leave, university spokesman Scott Hall said, "There was no connection. This was Mitch's decision to move on. We wish him well."

Hired in 2004, Shapiro was touted as a high-octane Buckeye with business experience who helped Ohio build its version of Indiana's BioCrossroads biomedical initiative.

He was said to be just the right guy to rub shoulders with the local business community because of his own extensive experience in the business world.

U of I was gunning hard to build its graduate business program, and Shapiro was to spearhead donations to the 650-student business school.

It's unclear just how successful he was in that regard.

What is clear is that he rubbed the wrong way some of the 18 full-time business faculty.

Among allegations in the grievance was that Shapiro allowed an administrator to comment openly about "getting rid of" six faculty members in 2006-2007.

They complained different criteria were used to evaluate "favored" and "targeted" faculty. They said Shapiro's team retaliated against those who didn't vote in favor of preferred job candidates.

The grievance also poked a stick at Shapiro's top lieutenants, alleging then-Director of Undergraduate Business Programs Darrell Bowman was hired without faculty input or normal university procedures.

They also alleged the naming of Matt Will to associate business school dean didn't follow the school's search procedures.

U of I officials broadly disputed the grievance, obtained by IBJ in 2006. Regarding the claim Shapiro was trying to clean house, the university said, "It is understandable that underperforming employees may feel out of favor, but no one is being targeted."

The newly named interim dean at U of I's business school is Sheela Yadav, associate professor and director of undergraduate business programs. She is noted for her expertise in supply chain management practices.

Bowman is now a professor of information systems. Will, the other top Shapiro lieutenant, is now director of external relations. School officials said the new role was a natural fit for Will, a gregarious finance professor frequently quoted by local media and who has helped raise U of I's visibility.

Hall said Will's change in roles "was not concurrent with Mitch's announcing he was leaving," but rather reflected his desire last year to focus more on teaching.

A number of faculty had praised Shapiro for helping them secure resources to work in other countries, such as Vietnam, to improve the educational perspectives of students.

That U of I four years ago picked a business executive, Shapiro, to lead a business school was a bold move, said David Millard, a partner at Indianapolis law firm Barnes & Thornburg and chairman of the firm's business department.

"For my money, it still is probably more important today than it has ever been," said Millard, pointing to the success of Don Kuratko, who heads the entrepreneurship program at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business.

Kuratko grew up in the funeral home business before leading the entrepreneurship program at Ball State University.

Or, Millard said, look at the success of Tom Snyder, the new president of Ivy Tech Community College, who was former president and CEO of auto-parts maker Delco Remy International.

Snyder "has completely reshaped it into the community college that Indiana decided it needed."

While Millard said he's not privy to Shapiro's record at U of I, and that business executives don't necessarily do well in academia, he said the school should be credited for tapping someone who knew what it was like running a business.

"I think, without that background, there is just that element missing. It's the difference between observing and playing the game."

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