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Taking Otago's student-centered approach to universities in the USA

Wednesday 22 April 2020 9:34am

ANews0420 Jenny Darroch 226px
Dr Jenny Darroch

Despite it being a challenging time to change jobs, distinguished Otago Business School (OBS) alumna Dr Jenny Darroch is excited about taking up her new position as Dean of the Farmer School of Business at Miami University in Ohio, USA.

Jenny is currently the Henry Y. Hwang Dean and Professor of Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Marketing at the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management at Claremont Graduate University in California. Prior to this she was a senior lecturer and the inaugural Director of Entrepreneurship at OBS, where she launched New Zealand’s first Masters in Entrepreneurship. Another of her Otago legacies is that she’s the one who chose the “in-your-face” bright green border for the Entrepreneurship graduation hood. Jenny graduated from Otago with a PhD in Marketing in 2002 and moved to the USA in 2004.

Otago’s Head of Department, Marketing, Associate Professor Rob Aitken says he is “so pleased, but not at all surprised, to see Jenny move to another prestigious position at the centre of business education in America”.

“When Jenny joined us at Otago, it was clear that she knew what had to be done to achieve her PhD and make a start on a challenging career. As always with Jenny, it was a simple formula: hard work, clear objectives, carefully researched decisions, the highest expectations and aspirational intentions. All of these she demonstrated while achieving her PhD in record time. Of particular importance then, as it is now, is her interest in, and concern for, her students and faculty - the hallmark of an inspirational leader and an exemplary colleague.”

Jenny’s new role begins on July 1, and in the following Q&A she talks to us about what she hopes to achieve at the Farmer School of Business, the challenges of taking up the position in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and some of the important things she learned during her time at Otago.


question Q  How did you react when you heard you were the successful candidate?

I am absolutely thrilled to be the next dean of the Farmer School of Business at Miami University, and its first woman dean.

When I decided it was time to leave Claremont Graduate University, where I have been since leaving Otago in 2004, I was looking for a university that was nationally ranked and had a distinct point of difference in the market. I found all of that at Miami and have also found it to be a great cultural fit. There is also a sense of peace that comes with having found the next opportunity, and one that feels right.


question Q  What will you be focusing on and hoping to achieve?

I am joining a strong university that is ranked in the top five in the USA for its commitment to undergraduate teaching. Having said that, Miami wants to strengthen its offerings for graduate students and so diversifying the revenue stream will be a priority for me.

In addition, Miami draws the majority of its students from the local region and, since there is a declining population in the mid-west, I will be working with the marketing team to ensure we are top of mind nationally, and with the recruitment and admission team on a national recruitment strategy. My goal here is to ensure we can continue to recruit the best and brightest nationally and internationally so as to maintain the reputation Miami has for being highly selective.

Diversity, equity and inclusion are priorities for the university and so I want to examine what has worked, and what else needs to be done, to make sure we are bringing in a more diverse student body and making sure all students on campus feel they belong and have equal access to opportunities.

Deans in the USA need to spend the majority of their time with an external focus on fundraising. So, this is not only a priority for me but one with heightened importance because of the increasing need to bring in non-tuition revenue. Having said that, going into a new role during COVID-19 and when the financial markets are uncertain, provides different conditions within which to fundraise. I am fortunate in that the Farmer School of Business has many donors, prospective donors, and passionate alumni whom I will meet as I start in my new role.


question Q  What are the challenges ahead for your new role in our current Covid-19 world?

To be honest, none of us know what the new academic year (which starts around August/September) will look like. We are working from home until at least May 15 and then we do not know what social distancing practices will be in place after that. We all hope to be back on campus for the fall semester. Being online in fall, or delaying the start of the year until spring, are scenarios we all hope to avoid.

What we do know is that budgets for next year are already severely impacted. For public universities, state support has or will be cut dramatically; for private universities, students might be unwilling to pay for the higher cost of tuition; for public or private universities with large endowments, the money flowing in from these has been negatively impacted by the markets.

We are already seeing reports of major cuts in higher education expenditure and there are plenty of stories in the media of layoffs, salary cuts, program cuts and the like. So, we all need to batten down the hatches and hold our breath a bit for the next 12 months as we get more clarity around our new normal. As dean, my priority is always to grow revenue and find new sources of revenue and so in a way it is business as usual but the goal posts have moved a bit.


question Q  How did your PhD and time working at Otago influence you and your career?

There is much I am grateful to Otago for. When I was at Otago, the Department of Marketing had a very strong research culture and a large number of very talented doctoral students. I have very fond memories of our research seminars, and of our Friday afternoon doctoral student meetings, where we were exposed to and actively debated diverse topics and approaches to research. We never left stones unturned during those meetings and the quality of debate was critical to my growth as a researcher. I hear that providing the right conditions for research is still a hallmark of the Department.

I was also fortunate to be appointed as the inaugural Director of Entrepreneurship at Otago. While I was Director, I developed and launched the Masters in Entrepreneurship (and got to choose the color of the graduation hood – an in-your-face bright green border). This experience was important to me because, at the time, entrepreneurship programs were relatively new and were often seen as too vocational by some of the more traditional departments on campus. This experience at Otago taught me to work effectively across a university.

Finally, it was at Otago where I learned how important it is to be student-centered. I joined Otago as a lecturer, and while I had worked at several other New Zealand universities, I was completely blown away during my first orientation by just how much the faculty and staff cared about students and how special they wanted to make incoming students feel about joining the School of Business. This left a lasting impression on me. Now, when I make decisions, I often ask myself whether the decision will enhance the student experience and/or student outcomes.