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The 115-year history of Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business might not impress those in countries where the door handles are older than the American constitution, but in the US this counts as a heritage and a challenge for the new dean, Matthew Slaughter.
How do you create modern relevance for a long established school like Tuck, which lacks the scale and wealth of its Ivy League peers like Yale and Harvard to capture an increasingly transient and digitally connected student market?
“The biggest thing we are focused on is articulating a fresher vision of where Tuck will be in the future,” Professor Slaughter says. “We need to think how in a world of Moocs [massive open online courses] and other ways of transmitting knowledge what is the value of the physical space that we have.”
What this means, he says, is a “blending” of the traditions of Tuck with new technology and a more globalised teaching programme. He describes Tuck as a “base camp”, from which students can return from study trips abroad or from studying online to reflect on what they have learnt amid the calm of the New England campus.
“There are many voices that wonder about the value is added by higher ed and business schools in particular,” Professor Slaughter says.
“What is clear to me, talking to people both inside and outside Tuck, is that our physical space and the people we attract to teach are cherished assets.”
Tuckies, as Tuck students are known, are a select bunch. Numbering just 560, they are the smallest student population among elite US business schools. Unlike other business schools, all 51 of Tuck’s full-time faculty teach on the school’s MBA programme.
This intimacy is an advantage, Professor Slaughter insists, because it encourages learning beyond the classroom. He points to the example of faculty members like Kenneth French, Roth Family Distinguished Professor of Finance at Tuck since 2011, who invites students to join him on Saturday morning bike rides for what often turns into a seminar on wheels.
“This man is a god of accounting. But you don’t just learn from Ken French in the classroom, you can go cycling with him on a Saturday and ask questions about finance.”
It all sounds very romantic but there is a concern that Tuck has rested too much on its laurels. In the last few years the school has tumbled down the FT’s MBA ranking table, dropping from 16th to 23rd place between 2013 and 2015.
“I don’t like that we have been slipping a bit in recent years,” Professor Slaughter admits, although he adds in the same breath that Tuck is, by many measures, a “very solid” business school.
One statistic he is proud of is that 98 per cent of the class of 2014 students already had a job or a job offer by the time they graduated, an achievement Professor Slaughter believes will be repeated this year.
“That is terrific and yet we have to make sure we have a Tuck answer to other drivers of the business student.”
Professor Slaughter gained his PhD from MIT and joined Tuck as a faculty member in 2002. At 46, he would be past pensionable age if he lasts as long as his predecessor as dean, Paul Danos, who spent 20 years in the job, one of the longest periods in office of any business school head.
Such milestones look a long way off, Professor Slaughter claims, adding that he is more concerned about bringing “new energy” to his role.
He turns to the historical long view to express hope for his chances of reinventing Tuck.
“When Dartmouth College was founded, the US was like Chennai or India, and the UK had a much higher income,” he says, noting that the idea of creating a business school when Tuck opened its doors was as revolutionary as the actions ed tech start-ups providing teaching over an app are today.
“There are times when education really does need to evolve,” he says. That time has come round again for Tuck.