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Over the past month, Dean Rajan and Booth leadership have listened to students, alumni, faculty, and other voices about investments the school can make to strengthen diversity and inclusion in our community. The initial result of this effort is Booth's Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan. It is but the first step: Further initiatives focusing on alumni and other areas are still developing.

One of the many students who shared ideas and insight into how Booth can strengthen its work on diversity and inclusion is Full-Time student Morgan Franklin. A graduate of Vanderbilt who majored in history and English, Morgan came to Booth in the fall of 2019. She is currently spending her summer as an intern at ZX Ventures, the global growth and innovation group of Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Morgan also publishes a popular blog about her MBA experience, where she chronicles numerous aspects of her Booth journey. Morgan recently interviewed Dean Rajan to discuss Booth’s commitment and how the actions outlined in the school’s initiatives can help bring her hopes for a more diverse and inclusive Booth community to fruition.

Morgan Franklin
Booth student Morgan Franklin

Morgan Franklin: We’re talking today because there has been disappointment in Booth’s response to the George Floyd killing, the Amy Cooper situation, and the environment we’re currently in. Your office has put together a very comprehensive plan of action, which students have, in a way, required. I think we have a decent understanding of “why now,” but to you, what has been the impetus for this plan?

Madhav Rajan: There’s the saying that change comes slowly and then very fast, right? I think that this was a perfect example. Definitely, it’s something that happened at Booth, but it’s happened in society, too. These are not new problems. There are catalytic events, and people realize that something big is happening and figure out how we’re going to respond. While the school has been working on diversity and inclusion all along, we’ve never thought it through in terms of putting together something as comprehensive as the current plan. Clearly, students had a significant role to play. Alumni also reached out and said, “I graduated from Booth in 2016; this was my experience. Looking back, I wish things had been different in the following ways.” We've had faculty reach out to us to say, “How could we think about putting together a committee that could actually address some of these issues?” It's great the process has begun. You could argue like, why now? Why didn’t you do it 10 years ago or 50 years ago? But it’s a good thing that we’re doing it now.

Morgan Franklin: Who was involved in developing this plan to make sure it was viable and feasible and something that everyone would care about? 

Madhav Rajan: It's been a true team effort. The African American MBA Association had a big role to play, as did other student groups and individual students. The centers at Booth—the Rustandy Center and other centers—had a lot to do with it. Staff across the school played a role looking through the document, making sure that this is what they wanted. Of course, the faculty, the deputy deans, Doug Skinner, and Pietro Veronesi played a role. But I would say ultimately, the two people who did the most were Jessica Jaggers and Starr Marcello. They oversaw the process, looked across the board, got feedback from everybody, and put together something that we thought was aspirational and realistic.

Madhav Rajan
Dean Madhav Rajan

Morgan Franklin: Can you talk about what Booth would have to do to get Black faculty on staff, and potentially get one tenured? 

Madhav Rajan: There’s a distinction between tenured faculty and clinical and adjunct faculty. The adjunct faculty are typically practitioners we bring in to teach classes we think are important. We actually will have multiple Black adjunct faculty members teaching next year. I just can’t tell you who they are yet. On the tenure-line, the key issue is that you need faculty to have a PhD. We have an initiative we’re working on with other universities on recruiting and encouraging Black undergraduate students to become research professionals. After they’ve finished undergraduate school, they come for a two to three-year period where they learn about doing research. Those are the people who then do a PhD and then become faculty. That's where we’re focusing.

Morgan Franklin: When these young students don’t currently see people in these roles that look like them, what do you do to convince them to want to go that path? 

Madhav Rajan: This is a very Chicago solution. We tell our faculty that they can hire undergraduate students as research assistants for their research projects. The faculty love it because they get somebody who’s very young, very smart. There is a natural connection that happens at the point. These are great undergraduate students. The students help the faculty, and the faculty teach the students what research is all about. 

I mean, a big reason people don’t do PhDs is, frankly, they have no idea what a PhD is. I didn’t even know that a PhD existed as a profession. I was lucky because I was in the MBA program, and a faculty member told me, “Hey, have you ever thought about doing a PhD?” I said, “I have no idea what that means.” We need to educate people this career exists, and it’s a great career. You get to focus on the life of the mind and make an impact.

Morgan Franklin: How can the administration help faculty incorporate more diversity-based training into the curriculum?

Madhav Rajan: We’ve set up an MBA curriculum faculty committee. The last one we did was six years ago. Ann McGill is the chair of the committee. They are gathering data right now, and in the autumn, they’ll talk to students, alumni, and recruiters to get feedback on what’s working in the curriculum and what isn’t, as well as what changes need to be made. If students feel there are classes that need to be taught that aren’t currently being taught, we will absolutely be responsive to figure out what those courses are and find the right people to teach them.

Morgan Franklin: For students and alumni, how can we hold your office accountable for making sure that what you say is going to get done gets done, even after you leave Booth?

Madhav Rajan: The key is to put in institutional structures that will persist after I’m gone. That was the reason we installed a deans diversity advisory committee. We know that that’s been successful in other instances. That committee will report directly to the dean of students and the dean of the MBA program. If two years from now, the faculty composition looks the same, or students are unhappy with the curriculum, that’s something we have to take responsibility for.

Morgan Franklin: What is within this plan that attacks how to eliminate discrimination in the classroom?

Madhav Rajan: We cannot mandate how faculty teach. However, we are very, very clear that if the teaching is done in a manner that is at all not inclusive or is hurtful to any group, students have absolutely the right to bring that to my attention. There is zero tolerance for any kind of classroom instruction by the faculty that doesn’t meet the school standards.

I am also forming a new faculty committee that will think about how we can bring diversity and inclusion throughout the curriculum, in our centers, and in faculty recruiting. I think just having a separate class on D&I would be a failure, to be honest. The committee will think about how to provide a toolkit for faculty to think, “How do I know that my course is inclusive?” “How do I create an inclusive syllabus?” “Who are the people I'm bringing in to speak to my class?” “What videos am I showing?” “How am I explaining concepts?” The goal is recognizing that inclusivity has to be on all fronts. It can’t just be a standalone thing.

Morgan Franklin: The plan states that Booth will engage in staff training to combat biases. How do you envision this training will work?

Madhav Rajan: The University's statement on diversity brings up training to combat bias. I don’t know if the University has determined how they're going to mandate that training, but bias training is essential. We’re going to make sure that everybody takes part in it. The interesting thing is we have the best faculty in the world in behavioral science. Bias is an area that our faculty know a lot about. They’ve done a lot of research and teach it in some of the classes they offer, like Managing in Organizations. We’re going to make sure that everybody has access to that training, certainly for anybody in a position where they’re going to influence in terms of recruiting people or making those sorts of decisions.

Morgan Franklin: You and I have talked previously about diversity within our student body. As you know, I can count how many Black women are in my class on my hands. Obviously, we know that this is part of the plan, but how do we increase diversity numbers, especially Black students within our program, and get more diverse students to matriculate into the program?

Madhav Rajan: That’s a big frustration for me. As you know, this is where we have really tried to put a lot of resources into play. That’s something I want to dig into. Why are we losing students? If we know that Booth is the better place for them in terms of the academic reputation and the education they get, why are we losing them? I want to make it very clear to the incoming students, that this is a very welcoming, hospitable environment for minority students. This year, we were supposed to host Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT), a nonprofit organization supporting rising leaders from underrepresented communities. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, that didn’t happen, but we’re going to do the virtual version this autumn. We have been told that we can host the 2022 version. We’re going to do a lot more outreach to colleges that have more minority students historically. 

Also, we expanded the two-plus-two program last year, which has been very successful. When they’re juniors or seniors in college, we go to students, explain what the MBA is, and give them a deferred admission to Booth. I think it’s really about convincing young students that Booth is a welcoming place, that this is a place that’s great for their career, that they will enjoy their fellow students, they’ll enjoy the community, and they can be proud of what they learn here. It’s on us to make that difference happen. 

Morgan Franklin: How can you make sure that student voices are heard and used to strengthen our community? 

Madhav Rajan: I think that one thing about the pandemic is that the ability to connect directly with students has changed dramatically. The inability for me, or people like Starr or Jessica, to just sit down with students and have conversations has been a problem. I used to do a lot of lunch meetings with students and converse to get their thoughts on what’s working well and what’s not. I’m happy to do that at any time. Any feedback students have that I feel like I can actually do something about, I will. I’m very, very committed to that part.

Morgan Franklin: What steps are we taking to make sure we are working with businesses that are committed to diversity?

Madhav Rajan: We have amazing students, who we think are going to be the best leaders. We want to match them with companies with the right attitudes about hiring a diverse workforce, promoting, training, and mentoring a diverse workforce. We look to student feedback. We will take any issues that you have with employers very seriously if you’re not treated well in an interview or a summer internship. We want to make sure that the kind of employers we bring to our students are the ones who share the same values that we have on diversity and inclusion. That is a big commitment that we’re going to make to all of you.

Morgan Franklin: Our program lasts only two years. How can you encourage students and alumni to further these conversations, to further empathy, and to better foster real relationships that can positively impact lives? 

Madhav Rajan: Technology is going to be great there. Using technology as a way to connect back to alumni is something we’re looking into. Thanks to what we learned in the Spring Quarter from remote learning, we’re doing an experiment where we have students and alumni taking virtual classes at the same time. Related to leadership, we’re starting alumni peer circles. We did a pilot in India, which again, because of the pandemic, we had to make it go virtual. The goal is to take a set of alumni in a geographical area, help them make connections, have conversations about their lives and their work, and other topics we can facilitate. We feel like that model could be very empowering. 

Also, at the Davis Center for Leadership, one of their core goals is not just leadership training for you while you’re a student, but to develop leadership training for alumni after they have left the school, and how we can be a lifelong learning partner with you.

Morgan Franklin: God forbid we have another catastrophic health pandemic, another racial pandemic; however, we define these situations. In the future, how would you like to see the school respond? How should students and faculty be empowered to respond? 

Madhav Rajan: That’s a great question. We’re all learners. The big lesson for me was that we don’t do a good enough job in orientation explaining to students exactly what the role of a school is versus the role of the individual. A fundamental principle at the University of Chicago is that it does not take a position on social or political issues, except in extraordinary circumstances. It’s a core principle. And on the face of it, that sounds really odd, right? It looks like, well, you’re just abdicating your responsibility. It’s actually the reverse. It’s very powerful because it says the institution by itself cannot hold a position on current social or political events, which would then prevent other people from debating it or disagreeing with it. The whole notion is that we encourage you as students to say whatever you think is the right thing you want to say about a situation without ever worrying that I, or the school, will come down on you.

That’s something I should have explained better. It’s something that is core to the University and has been for decades, yet it’s something that we never communicated to all the constituents. Once it was explained, people recognized it, but the mistake was not doing it ahead of time.

Morgan Franklin: A lot of people have asked, is that principle outdated? Do you believe that this stance is incredibly valuable or should be challenged, given situations like what we’ve seen last couple of months?

Madhav Rajan: As a good Chicago person, I would say you should absolutely challenge it. If the feeling of students is, “Hey, this is different. The school should take a position,” you should absolutely challenge it. But the distinction, I would say, is that we can say the school condemns racism of all forms. The school absolutely stands for inclusivity, equity. We want to have a diverse student body. All of that is totally fine. We just cannot associate ourselves with specific groups or movements. That’s why, in the end, we ended up saying, these are the principles we hold very, very dear as a school. We are for freedom of expression, and we are for anti-racism. But again, those distinctions, we should have made very clear, much earlier on.

Morgan Franklin: Give me a visualization, looking back in a few years, what do you hope Booth will have in place that will make me proud as an alum? 

Madhav Rajan: I think that you will still have the best faculty in the world, but it’ll look different than what it is now. You’re going to see a diverse faculty. We’re going to see a diverse curriculum on topics that are important to students that currently, we’re not offering. You’re going to see a student body that is even more diverse than what we have now. My hope is when you speak to the students, they can tell you that this is a great school and a great experience. “I love my classmates. I love the curriculum that I'm getting. I feel like I’m a valued and respected member of this community. I feel like when I leave, I know how to manage in a setting that’s going be incredibly diverse.” Ultimately that's what we do as a school, train you to be a leader in a future world that is going to be incredibly diverse.

I would like that when you speak to people who graduate in the next few years, year or two that they reflect, and they say, “You know what? The school listened to us. The school made the changes that needed to be done. I’m very happy with the changes that happened. The school looks different. It’s an incredibly welcoming and inclusive environment. I learned a lot from it, and I’m going to be a great manager going forward.” That's what I hope you would see.