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Looking Outward, Listening Closely: A Conversation with Tuck Dean Matthew Slaughter

Dean Slaughter reflects on his first term as dean, his priorities for his second term, and the business education landscape.

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n June 2019, Dartmouth Provost Joseph Helble announced Matthew J. Slaughter’s appointment to a second term as dean of the Tuck School of Business. Since then, Slaughter has been busy building on the momentum established during his first four-year term, which included the successful implementation of broadscale changes to the MBA program’s first-year core curriculum and the strategic expansion of Tuck’s portfolio of non-degree programs. Slaughter also strengthened the school’s administrative functions, with important enhancements to Career Services. Under Slaughter’s leadership, Tuck continued to make strides in building a faculty of the future, with multiple strategic additions to the faculty across a range of ranks and disciplines. His first term also saw the launch of The Tuck Difference campaign, along with the largest-ever gift commitment in school history: a $25-million donation from the American family foundation of Michaela and Zdenek Bakala T’89 in support of the TuckGO program, which became a curricular requirement at Tuck starting with the class of 2017.

We sat down with Dean Slaughter midway through the current academic year to learn more about his first term as dean, his priorities for his second term, and his take on the current business education landscape.

Q.

There is a lot happening at Tuck these days—from the recent broadscale changes to the first-year core curriculum, to enhancements to Career Services, to the largest gift in Tuck’s history. How is Tuck building on this momentum?

The curriculum review really allowed us to think deeply about the school as a whole—not only about our first-year curriculum, but also the overall student experience and our unique mission and strategy. As part of this process, we spent considerable time listening even more intentionally to prospective students and the organizations that hire them to ensure our learning environment keeps pace with our dynamic and changing world. That has been one of the guiding principles for these refinements—to look outward and listen closely to key stakeholders—and it has created a new process for innovation that is allowing us to build to a future in which Tuck has an even more distinct and valued place in it.

We have also made great progress in recent years building our faculty of the future—bringing in faculty who are committed to the kind of rigorous and relevant research, teaching, and knowledge creation that has long set Tuck apart. These addi-tions to our acclaimed faculty, together with the continued quality of our students, contribute in very real ways to our current momentum. As they have been since our founding, people are Tuck’s greatest asset and they remain central to the success of our future endeavors.

For Slaughter, a guiding principle for innovation at Tuck has been to look outward and listen closely to the school’s key stakeholders.

Q.

Looking ahead, what are some of your top priorities for the next four years?

When I think about priorities as dean, it always starts with the heart of what we do, which is the MBA program. Making near- and longer-term investments that enable the MBA program and our other offerings to thrive in a way that is distinctive to Tuck and that resonates with our ever-changing world is absolutely critical to our success. Simply put, no other school can do what we do at Tuck. Our personal scale allows students to develop capabilities and forge connections within our community and with the outside world in a way that allows them to transform themselves, their organizations, and even the world itself. This is what we mean by “personal, connected, and transformative.” It all adds up to an experience I firmly believe no other MBA program in the world  can match.

Another priority for Tuck will be to continue developing new business education programs in the pre- and post-MBA space. These programs help advance our unique mission, they contribute to the school’s finances, and they broaden our reach and impact in the world. A third priority is continuing the momentum of The Tuck Difference campaign. I am thrilled with the progress we have made so far; to date alumni and friends have raised more than $184.5 million toward our goal of $250 million. Included in this Tuck’s largest-ever gift to endow our vibrant TuckGO program. This support is more important than ever given the pace and scope of change in the world, and I am excited to build on our collective success.

No matter where someone stands in our school, I want them to see clearly their role in our mission of educating wise, decisive leaders who better the world through business."

- Dean Matthew Slaughter

Q.

The needs of MBA students continue to evolve. How are today’s MBA students different from learners in previous generations?

For our current generation of students, their world has been shaped by 9/11, by the financial crisis and Great Recession, by the sweeping technology revolution, and by global warming and climate change. Out of this has emerged a set of interconnected global, social, and technological forces that is more salient in the minds and experiences of students today than with any previous generation.

Also top of mind for these students is the expectation that they will have the opportunity to apply what they learn in the classroom in experiential settings. We are living in a world today in which people have access to truly infinite amounts of information. So, while we at Tuck must continue to ensure that our students develop the functional expertise, analytical skills, and personal leadership capabilities that are essential to their success, the way we deliver these ideas and how students interact with them continues to evolve dramatically. Both today’s learners and companies rightly expect that there won’t just be an intellectual hearing of ideas among students, but rather a synthesis, application, and experience with them. This underscores the importance of programs like TuckGO, the First-Year Project, and our six co-curricular centers of learning and application.

Finally, we are seeing that students today have an even greater entrepreneurial aspiration for their learning and career journey than previous generations. They also have an earnest desire to make a difference in the world—and they want it to happen yesterday. This again connects to the global, social, and technological forces that are driving business today and that are so central to our students’ lives. That’s something we want to honor by delivering a personal, connected, and transformative educational experience for them. We want them to feel empowered.

Slaughter speaks with parents of soon-to-be Tuck graduates at Friends and Family Day.

Q.

In this rapidly evolving world, what role do you see Tuck and its graduates playing?

Again, I go back to why we exist as a school: to develop wise, decisive leaders who better the world through business. What we repeatedly hear from global businesses and organizations is that they need leaders who can harness information to articulate different points of view in environments of disruptive ambiguity. These are the leaders that Tuck has long developed.

We are living in a time of great innovation, but also of great complexity and uncertainty. In recent years this uncertainty has extended to the MBA marketplace, which has experienced a decrease in application volume. As many know, we at Tuck have not been immune to these forces. Our response to the challenging market conditions has been to redouble our efforts to enhance the fundamental qualities that distinguish Tuck from other business schools—to be even better at what we know we do so well and what we know the world values.

Our performance in several recent MBA program rankings—2nd in Bloomberg Businessweek, 6th in Forbes, and 10th nationally in The Economist—suggests we are on the right track. While it is gratifying for Tuck to be seen as doing well in the eyes of the world, I was especially encouraged by how we ranked on specific criteria that are hallmarks of what distinguishes Tuck, including placing 1st in Businessweek for the effectiveness of our alumni network and 3rd in The Economist for our immersive learning experience. These are just two of many qualities that set Tuck apart and that we plan to continue strengthening in the months and years to come.

What we repeatedly hear from global businesses and organizations is that they need leaders who can harness information to articulate different points of view in environments of disruptive ambiguity. These are the leaders that Tuck has long developed."

- Dean Matthew Slaughter

Q.

What has been the most gratifying part of your work so far as dean?

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Time and again during my time as dean, I have been inspired by how members of our community become empowered to be their best selves as part of Tuck’s mission. This really starts with our students and faculty, who are at the heart of our learning enterprise, and then extends to our entire community—to staff and to our loyal and supportive alumni. No matter where someone stands in our school, I want them to see clearly their role in our mission of educating wise, decisive leaders who better the world through business. And every day I see our entire community taking tangible steps to contribute to this Tuck aspiration. Seeing so many people flourish through Tuck’s mission is intensely gratifying to witness.

Q.

Learning at Tuck is a lifelong journey. What has been your greatest learning to date as dean?

I have learned that the fundamental role of the dean of the Tuck School is to steward the institution toward its infinite future. As dean, I am continually thinking about building new capabilities through great students, faculty, staff, and administrative leaders—all to steward the school’s ability to thrive for the many years beyond my time here. Despite the world of late being more bracingly invigorating than most of us expected, I am confident that Tuck can play an even more central role in this world—not just in business education, but in higher education and across the globe for decades to come.