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EDUCATION SMU’S PYE LEARNS A BUSINESS LESSON

By Sally Giddens |

When we last left SMU President Ken Pye, he was terrorizing some members of his faculty with blunt public statements about programs that he wouldn’t mind seeing eliminated-namely the undergraduate business degree. Pye, who believes students should study liberal arts, then take an MBA, slashed the program while running Duke University and has made no secret of his disapproval of undergraduate business education since coming to SMU in 1987.

Faculty, students, and alumni have quaked in expectation of the upcoming report from Pye’s Task Force on Academic Priorities, with many suspecting Pye has already decided to rid the school of the undergraduate business program. But while the tension mounts-the report was due in late February but may be yet another month in coming-it seems that Ken Pye is changing his tune.

Not only has he been uncharacteristically quiet about his anti-business bent, but Pye has even been complimentary of the program. In publicly bidding adieu to outgoing business school dean Roy Herberger, Pye repeatedly lauded the fine programs of SMU’s Edwin L. Cox School of Business.

Interested Cox alumni may believe their own vocal disapproval of Pye’s attitude toward their school made the difference. But that’s not likely, Herberger says. With fully 36 percent of SMU’s incoming freshmen enrolling at the Cox school, Pye’s mouth has most likely been shut by financial reality. SMU’s money problems are no secret, and the school simply can’t afford to eliminate one of its most profitable divisions-something many of those freshmen learn early in Business 101.

As for the long-awaited report, it’s likely to be good bedtime reading, sources close to the proceedings predict. With fifteen members, the task force has been compared to the unruly, divided DART board.

And if the task force has any hidden agenda these days, it calls for eliminating not the undergraduate business degree but the small, unprestigious engineering school, which will surprise few SMU watchers. The E-school has been struggling since the days when Erik Jons-son took Texas Instrument’s money and clout to The University of Texas at Dallas.