A Look Back, A Look Ahead

The Past and Future of the Opus College of Business

Almost from its very beginning, the University of St. Thomas has included business offerings in its curriculum. Always with a careful eye turned toward blending its undergraduate business offerings with a robust, comprehensive liberal arts core, the (then) College of St. Thomas boldly moved into graduate business education with its MBA program, enrolling its first students in 1974.

In 2001, the university’s board of trustees and senior leaders established the College of Business so that all of its business programs could be organized under a single administrative structure. I joined the College of Business as its first dean in August 2002, and in October 2006 we became the Opus College of Business in grateful recognition of a lifetime of generous support from the Rauenhorst family. We also had received a gift of $50 million from Richard Schulze, founder and chairman of Best Buy Co. Inc., to establish the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship and to construct Schulze Hall on our Minneapolis campus.

Our goal, inspired by the trustees and our generous benefactors, was clear and direct: Within the Catholic identity and longstanding commitment of St. Thomas to the liberal arts and ethics, build a college of business whose programs and educational experience would be second to none. This translated into our vision, which is to be recognized locally, nationally and internationally for our excellence in educating highly principled global business leaders.

Now, five years later, it is appropriate to provide an update on what has been accomplished and what lies in store for our future. Our first order of business was the strategic decision to seek formal accreditation from AACSB International, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, whose accreditation signifies the “World’s Best Business Schools.” This is a complicated process that requires the full engagement of faculty, staff and administration, and a significant commitment of resources from the university, all of which has taken place.

Our faculty carefully reviewed and assessed our curricula across all of our undergraduate and graduate program offerings, and revised and updated each of them to correspond to the best in the world, without compromising our commitment to our Catholic identity, ethics and the liberal arts. We have adjusted our faculty mix to achieve a more effective balance between full-time professors and our impressive cadre of professionally qualified adjunct faculty from the Twin Cities business community. We have hired 35 new full-time faculty with doctoral degrees from Duke, Northwestern, Wharton, Stanford, University of California-Berkeley, University of Texas, University of Nebraska, Michigan State and the University of Minnesota, among others. Within the next 12 to 15 months, we will have grown from 65 to 95 full-time faculty, complemented by more than 100 talented adjunct faculty from the business community.

As important as this is, faculty are but one key element in creating a great business school. As you might have deduced, the other elements include outstanding students, state-of-the-art facilities and the resources to sustain and grow our offerings. St. Thomas always has been a beacon for attracting and enrolling wonderfully talented students, and this continues today. The ACT scores and grade-point averages of our entering freshmen are the highest they have ever been. Similarly, the GMAT scores, GPAs and work experience for our entering graduate students are all at record high levels. We are blessed with a talented, brilliant faculty, and we have a student body to match.

Facilities and resources are no less spectacular. In the fall of 2005, we opened Schulze Hall on our Minneapolis campus, and we followed that one year later with the opening of the new McNeely Hall on our St. Paul campus. The result is 160,000 square feet of new, state-of-the-art classrooms and office space that truly is second to none in appearance, functionality and technology.

The final element for achieving and sustaining our goals is having the required financial resources. In today’s economy with ever-present pressures on costs and understandable constraints on tuition, it simply is not possible to deliver the appropriate quality of education we desire on tuition alone. In January 2008, we announced a gift of $50 million from an anonymous benefactor to the endowment of the Opus College of Business. We will never spend the principal of this generous gift, but the earnings from its investment will provide a welcome increase of added support for faculty development, student financial aid and degree-program activities.

The past five years have enabled all of us in the Opus College of Business, working together with a focused vision, to transform our college into a strong business school true to our Catholic identity and our liberal arts heritage that delivers an exceptional educational experience. What, coming then, lies ahead?

Our first major strategic goal is to achieve success in our quest for accreditation by AACSB International. We have filed our application and completed a full analysis comparing our current structure and program characteristics with the 20 applicable AACSB International standards. AACSB International policies render it inappropriate for us to speculate or infer the outcome or current status of our accreditation application; however, I believe it is within proper bounds to say that we have a sound plan in place and that our plan has the full support of the university leadership.

Our next goal is to achieve greater external visibility for our outstanding faculty and our distinguished alumni. One venue for accomplishing this is in your hands right now: B. magazine. Each issue features the latest accomplishments of our faculty and alumni. Many of our external communications activities will focus on the full-time UST MBA program because of its potential impact on the visibility of the Opus College of Business and all of our other programs. Rightly or wrongly, the national media tend to judge business schools by the perceived quality of their full-time MBA programs. We know well the excellent quality of our undergraduate business program; our evening, executive and health care MBA programs; the Master of Business Communication program; and our Master of Science programs in the fields of accountancy and real estate. However, the significant positive “halo” effect of the full-time MBA adds to the value and input of all our degree and nondegree offerings. Our commitment to all of our alumni is to continually increase the value of their education so that with each passing year every St. Thomas business degree will carry greater significance.

To that end, we are creating opportunities for greater engagement by our many graduate alumni. We know from talking with our alumni that their time is valuable and that when they spend it with us that value should be returned. Our newly created Graduate Alumni Advisory Board has organized a series of bi-monthly gatherings at locations throughout the Twin Cities metropolitan area where our alumni come together for a program that delivers new professional knowledge while facilitating networking opportunities. Join us, and you will be pleased with the return on your time.

I have described our future in terms of national accreditation aspirations, faculty and alumni growth, and overall program quality. These are vital elements in the success of any excellent business school, but we also have characteristics that enable us to distinguish the Opus College of Business from other business schools. Here I am referring to our five special foci: ethics, entrepreneurship, family enterprise, nonprofit management and health care leadership and policy.

As our future unfolds, we will expand our visibility and influence in each of these areas. We have long played a significant role in business ethics with one of the longest-standing endowed chairs in business ethics, a prestigious national Center for Ethical Business Cultures, an expanded set of curriculum offerings in business ethics and our newest venture, the Self Appraisal and Improvement Process Institute (SAIP). You will see all of these converging in the future to provide us with a significant platform for leadership in the theories and practice of business ethics.

We may be the only major educational institution that contains a complete School of Entrepreneurship within its College of Business. This organizational structure is a deliberate strategic commitment to showcase the importance of entrepreneurship for the growth and success of our economy. Going forward, expect the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship to become a beacon bringing the concepts of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial thinking to every corner of our outstanding university. We will reach out and explore connections with technology colleagues and with our liberal arts colleagues interested in the expanding field of social entrepreneurship. Here again our goal is expanded recognition for our leadership in all aspects of theory and practice in entrepreneurship.

Often intermingled with entrepreneurship, but clearly a distinct field of study, family business is poised to achieve prominence for the Opus College of Business. Under the guidance and leadership of a newly filled Chair in Family Enterprise, we will introduce a new course sequence in family business management for undergraduate and graduate students, we will expand our outreach to families in business and those organizations that support them, and we will establish our college as the center of knowledge for this longstanding and growing aspect of our national economy.

Finally, health care leadership and policy and nonprofit management are two related areas growing in significance and prominence within the Opus College of Business. We operate the Physicians’ Leadership College, a nondegree program that prepares medical practitioners to successfully bridge the spectrum of medical care and fiscal acuity in our health care institutions. Our National Institute for Health Policy already plays a prominent role at the regional and national level. In the coming months it will become the platform for new concepts and approaches for guiding policy development and implementation in what is now one of our nation’s greatest challenges. Closely related to the health care and public service sectors, our Center for Nonprofit Management will soon launch a major initiative to redefine how we measure performance in this sector. Current measures tend to focus on “impacts” and various “efficiency” characteristics, but the real key may rest in measuring the impact of investment, analogous to corporate America’s approach to ROI. We have a team of scholars and practitioners poised for a breakthrough in this important field.

If all of this seems daunting and ambitious, it undoubtedly is. However, we are building the faculty, acquiring the resources and creating the connections to produce the results. The last five years have been exciting and fulfilling for all of us in the Opus College of Business. The next five years are poised to be spectacular.

Christopher Puto has been the dean of the Opus College of Business since August 2002.

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