GWU business school dean is praised, then fired

September 13, 2013

Doug Guthrie has had an up-and-down year at George Washington University.

Named dean of the GWU business school in 2010, Guthrie was given another title in April: vice president for China operations.

“Dean Guthrie is uniquely qualified to lead the development of GW’s presence in China and to ensure that our activities there are fully consistent with our educational mission, our academic values and our strategic priorities,” university President Steven Knapp said at the time. “He has been very effective in extending the global reach of his school, and I am grateful for his willingness to take on this new role on behalf of the university as a whole.”

Now the erstwhile rising star is neither dean nor vice president. He’s just a professor, albeit one with tenure.

In late August, the university fired Guthrie from his two administrative positions. Provost Steven Lerman said last week that there were disagreements over how to control the business school’s spending in the aftermath of larger-than-expected expenditures in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

“We could not come to a shared understanding of the path forward,” Lerman said.

There have been reports that the business school spent $64 million in the past fiscal year, about $13 million more than initially planned. The GW Hatchet student newspaper, which has covered the firing extensively, cited a $13 million budget gap in its story on the ouster.

Lerman, asked about that figure, said: “I don’t want to put a specific number on it. . . . Overrun was not the right characterization.”

Guthrie, in an interview, acknowledged that annual spending exceeded what had been planned, in part because of the launch of some online education projects. But he said that tuition revenue also was higher than planned. The business school, he said, was in growth mode in an effort to jump into the ranks of the nation’s elite. This year, U.S. News & World Report ranks the business school 56th in the nation for its graduate programs.

“I was brought here with an explicit mandate to have a top-25 business school,” Guthrie said. To do that, he said, takes substantial investment.

Sometimes, though, investments of that sort collide with a university’s desire to obtain revenue from graduate education programs to fund other operations.

“We didn’t lose money,” Guthrie said. “We lost against the context of how much they wanted from us.”

He added that he did not want his school to be seen as a “cash cow” for the rest of the university.

Guthrie, 44, was a professor of management at New York University’s highly regarded Stern School of Business before he came to GWU.

Last week, the university named Christopher Kayes, a professor of management, as interim dean of the business school.

Lerman said he is optimistic that the school is headed in the right direction.

“Has it yet made that quantum leap that Doug envisioned?” Lerman asked. “Probably not. But it’s on the pathway.”

Knapp said in a statement Wednesday: “In the past few days, questions have been raised regarding the university’s commitment to the school of business. I want to give you my personal assurance that there has been no reduction whatsoever in the university’s commitment.”

What the leadership transition means for GWU’s ambitions to develop academic partnerships in China is unclear. Guthrie, who speaks Mandarin fluently, is a recognized China expert. Lerman and Knapp traveled to China with Guthrie in June for a forum on global business and trends in China.

Lerman said that for now, he will take over Guthrie’s China portfolio and that the university remains committed to developing partnerships in that country.

“His work in China did open up a lot of doors and possibilities for us,” Lerman said.

A former Post education editor, Nick writes about college from the perspective of a father of three who will soon be buried in tuition bills.
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