Understanding and Appreciating a Vision ... Four Years Later

Undergrads would call it half of a “victory lap.” Translation: I’m taking an extra semester of classes after the usual four years. Of course, my decision was based on my desire to continue writing for The Scroll, but it also had something to do with having two majors and a minor. In any case, I’m starting to feel like an old man around here. When I observe all the changes that UST has undergone during my tenure, I feel especially seasoned.

From a student’s perspective, the most obvious changes have been physical. Soon we’ll have not one but two new, big beautiful buildings serving us in St. Paul. However, I’ve been around long enough to observe subtler changes, too, especially within academic departments. Among these, the trajectory of the Opus College of Business (OCB) seems the most notable to me. Let me take you back four laps or so and I’ll explain what I mean.

I was sitting in Koch Fireside on a Sunday night with the rest of the All College Council (now called USG). We were listening to a well-dressed man discuss major curricular changes within the business school, and I recall he was animatedly gesturing with his hands. Using lofty terms like “world class” and “premier,” he was explaining his vision for OCB. It was essentially this: OCB would drive to achieve accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) International during the next four or five years. This would require a host of aggressive measures (the specifics of which I didn’t comprehend). The upshot was that accreditation would result in strong national and international recognition for our business programs and be very beneficial.

I remember thinking two things. First, it all sounded pretty grand. Second, none of it would be of any concern to me. I was one of those wide-eyed freshmen still humping through calculus and introductory theology, so all of this long-run, big-picture talk seemed pretty irrelevant. My major was political science. Why would I care?

Turns out one of my majors is finance. So about a lap after that ACC meeting, I started spending a lot of time in McNeely Hall. There I found out about Dean Christopher Puto. He looked like the guy from the ACC meeting, and I made the requisite connection. Moreover, my professors kept talking about the AACSB accreditation process that was in our midst. Each year, their message became clearer as the time horizon shrank from “in several years” to “real soon.” Each year, I noticed the names of new full-time professors as I registered for classes. Each year, I noticed OCB undergraduate tuition rates were 5 percent higher than other departments (because of the higher cost of faculty). And each year, it was explained to us that this was based on the need to acquire and maintain a strong faculty for the purposes of the accreditation.

My classmates saw at least two other major changes as they occurred. The requirements for an accounting major increased and the economy fell into a deep recession. I don’t recall which came first, but I figure we came to know the concept of a write-off pretty well. On the finance side, I whimsically recall my study group’s incredulous reaction to the assent of collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) to front-page news – never had something so obscure seemed so disastrous to so many. Corporate regulations changed, and we learned about those, too. Throughout all of this, the topic of accreditation still hung in the air because it can take up to seven years to go through the process.

Now I’m told OCB is in the final stages of Dean Puto’s trek. I know I haven’t even begun to list all of the things that have taken place to get OCB this far, but I’m only seeing the process from track-level.

I’m hoping we will receive accreditation this academic year. That way, next year’s incoming students will have a new student center, a new athletic and recreation complex and an accredited business school. All would have been attained despite the “Great Recession.” But they’ll probably be like I was more than four laps ago – a little too overwhelmed with their first lap to worry about who was running ahead of them.