The abrupt exit of Yash Gupta, the dean of USC's Marshall School of Business, came as a shock to many at the university and in the business community.

It shouldn't have.

Gupta, 54, never settled into life in Los Angeles, choosing to live in faculty housing rather than buying a home. Besides his widely reported failed bid for the presidency of the University of Arizona, Gupta also unsuccessfully sought to become a provost at another university. Perhaps most significantly, he may have fallen victim to what some observers see as a disproportionate concern over the school's ranking in various media forums. The Financial Times dropped the school 17 spots in its 2006 rankings.

"That's pretty bad," said Chloe Nguyen, a 20-year-old business major.

USC drew poor marks from the Financial Times on several criteria, including the percentage of alumni who had found jobs through the MBA Career Resource Center. Gupta had hired Peter Giulioni, a former senior partner at Deloitte Consulting LLP, as executive director of the center, and turning the center around was one of his biggest initiatives.

University President Steven B. Sample brought the situation to a head earlier this month, according to members of the schools' Board of Trustees, when he became aware of Gupta's efforts to find other jobs and confronted him, questioning his commitment to USC. Gupta subsequently tendered his resignation but remains on staff as a professor.

Glowing credentials
USC spent two years in an extensive search before picking Gupta to succeed Ralph Westerfield, who led the business school for 11 years. Westerfield was responsible for a fundraising campaign that brought in a $35 million gift from Gordon Marshall, an entrepreneur for whom the school is named.

Gupta spent five years as dean of the University of Washington Business School, where he was credited with boosting fundraising by 400 percent, according to a statement issued by the Marshall School when he was hired in July 2004. He helped launch new certificate and degree programs, including the nation's first doctoral program in technology entrepreneurship.

At USC, Gupta is generally well-regarded by board members, who see him as ambitious and aggressive even by USC standards in terms of fund-raising. His direct style is viewed as positive, several board members said.

Among his accomplishments was the launch of a two-year executive MBA program at the Marshall School's center in San Diego. Classes will begin there in August.

Thomas Gilligan, the vice dean for undergraduate education who was named interim business dean, cited a number of Gupta's achievements including hiring more staff members, improving relations with alumni, and introducing programs like the Dean's Breakfast and a leadership dinner that brought members of the business community to campus.

"We're just cooking on executing initiatives that we started in the last 18 months," Gilligan said.

Numbers game
Ultimately, Gupta's legacy and fate may have been drawn by the rankings of the school's MBA programs, which varied widely.

The Marshall School dropped to No. 54 in 2006 from No. 37 last year in the Financial Times' rankings. But the most significant ranking may have come in 2002, when the school received widespread publicity for its jump to the No. 17 spot in BusinessWeek's rankings. That was when the school was under Westerfield's leadership. In its first BusinessWeek ranking during Gupta's tenure, the school dropped to No. 27.

More than ever, the rankings are more than a beauty contest. Board members and alumni see the ratings as crucial to the ability of the university to attract top students and money.

Gilligan said that Gupta might have been unfairly judged on the basis of the rankings. He pointed out that the Wall Street Journal ranked USC 10th in both of Gupta's years.

"It wasn't long ago that Marshall wasn't even on the map in terms of rankings," said Gilligan. "We've busted into the rankings much like a stock price goes up and down."

Critics believe that the schools' emphasis on rankings is counterproductive.

Two professors at USC's Marshall School, Harry Deangelo and Linda Deangelo, wrote a paper last year titled "What's Really Wrong with U.S. Business Schools?" in which they claimed schools were "locked in a dysfunctional competition for media rankings that diverts resources from long-term knowledge creation."

"Research, undergraduate education and Ph.D. programs suffer as faculty time is diverted to almost continuous MBA curriculum changes, strategic planning exercises and public relations efforts," the paper suggested.

Gupta earned a salary of $257,600 at the University of Washington, though his salary at USC was not disclosed.

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