Last week, the University Board of Regents approved a major design to revamp the Stephen M. Ross School of Business. At least on paper, the design is impressive: 270,000 square feet, six stories and a glassed lounge with a panoramic view. The new facility is intended to be an architectural and technological powerhouse, with a price tag to match; it is estimated that the new building will cost $145 million, sourced largely from alum Stephen Ross’s $100 million donation.

Sarah Royce

Even before its groundbreaking, the renovation project has come under heavy scrutiny; outside of the Business School community, there is criticism that the lofty design is too costly and ostentatious for its surroundings.

Pouring millions of dollars into what is presently an adequate facility – especially compared to decrepit University staples like Angell Hall or the Modern Language Building – is certainly questionable, but unfortunately, the overhaul is a necessity. Institutions of higher business education are becoming increasingly competitive. Between Ross and rivals such as the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and the University of California at Berkeley’s Haas School, there is a lot of competitive parity: similar coursework, job placement statistics and admissions selectivity. This equality forces schools to differentiate themselves on more superficial factors, like access to technology and environmental comfort.

Significant indicators of success are the external rankings found in publications like U.S. News and World Report and The Wall Street Journal. The Wall Street Journal, which recently ousted Ross’s master of business administration program from the top spot, bases its designations upon the sentiments of company recruiters. A school’s environment directly affects recruiters, so impressive facilities can translate into higher rankings. Just yesterday, I spoke to a recruiter from a major bank who had a less-than-stellar opinion about the space and configuration of our career center. If enough recruiters echo such a feeling, Ross’s national reputation could become tainted.

A strong business program favorably affects the campus on a larger scale too. Every year countless students apply to and attend the University solely because of the Ross school; I myself came here contingent on the notion that I would acquire an undergraduate business degree. This interest will diminish if the school does not stay competitive on all fronts. Just as observers constantly tout the Law Quad for its aesthetics, better facilities increase the campus’s overall bottom line. The Law School certainly does not need an attractive library or learning area to churn out effective lawyers, but a few brownie points don’t hurt. After all, a student with a positive college experience now is far more apt to make donations as an alum in the long run.

The underlying problem is not whether a new business school is needed, but rather the unnecessary destruction that accompanies its creation is. The existing Ross school structure is plush in comparison to other buildings, especially in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and should be leveraged. In line with our friendly rivalry, B-school students often poke fun at economics majors whose classes take place in shabby Lorch Hall. There is no reason why these students, or others in similar positions, should continue to use aging facilities when ample resources exist next door.

The new and improved Ross School will definitely improve the experience of Business students, and although there will be trickle-down benefits for the entire campus population, there is no reason not to share the wealth directly as well.

 

Krishnamurthy can be reached at sowmyak@umich.edu.

 

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