What TSG Needs to Do in Spring 2019: 7 Calls to Action

By Isaac Miller MAGAM ’19, Guest Writer

This is a long, (hopefully) constructive read. Here’s an outline:

Opening Remarks on why I’m writing, and what TSG Leadership should do in Spring 2019.

TSG-Specific Action Areas

1) Leverage the Hierarchy

2) Yearlong Terms

Thunderbird-Wide Action Areas

3) Raise Admission Standards, Practices
4) Integrate More Travel
5) Provide Classes Tbirds Need (Short-Term)
6) Ensure Constant Student Input in New Building
7) IPOS Process Improvement

Over the course of my time here, I developed strong opinions for how Thunderbird needs to move forward. Further, after my experience at ASU, I saw the power that the highest levels of leadership within Arizona State give to student representatives. Consequently, I was deeply concerned with the seemingly lack of significant Thunderbird student voice, especially in the news of the campus move, ensuring certain elective classes, and in other significant steps.

As leadership at Thunderbird changed, my optimism grew, though I began to believe that most excitement would be with developing what Thunderbird will be in a few years, possibly to the detriment of how the school currently functions. I lamented the significant transitions that easily seemed beyond the control as Thunderbird students, alumni, faculty, and staff alike. Multiple people in different conversations involving my concerns happened to give me the same wise advice: that sounds like an opportunity.

My excitement with Thunderbird Rugby and with other extracurricular commitments has precluded me from running as Treasurer, Vice President or President of TSG. In light of this, I now aim to use my voice in a Das Tor Op-Ed to give strong ideas for all of the candidates for next semester. Further, the fact that I am not running liberates me from the discretion that those in leadership of most organizations must maintain.

What I present here only serves as steps toward which next semester’s TSG must strive. These steps do not serve as comprehensive solutions, but simply as steps without which the Spring 2019 TSG leaders will not have done their job. I have discussed some of these ideas with campus staff, fellow students, and even faculty.

In Garry Kasparov’s Winter is Coming, he makes the argument that the highest form of leadership focuses on building up the leader’s organization, as opposed to building up the leader’s self.

With this sentiment, my recommendations maintain the need for strengthening institutions. Next semester’s TSG must enact or advocate for the following initiatives to strengthen TSG and Thunderbird as a whole.

Much at Thunderbird remains up in the air, but will land soon. But when the dust settles, will the Thunderbird student voice land in a place of greater influence than before?

Our school was a tree in a desert lot with deep roots, but much less water than before. Someone bought the lot, and uprooted the tree and placed it into new soil. It wasn’t going to survive in its old home. But will it grow again?

Our tree will grow, and we will land on a higher perch. Here’s how to get there.


1) Leverage the Hierarchy.

When they hit roadblocks with Thunderbird administration a few years ago, students from the 2016 MAGAM Cohort went to the Open Forum with Dr. Crow. There, they remarked on their grievances, were heard by the university president, and eventually saw swift solutions to at least some of the problems they articulated. What’s the lesson? Leverage the Hierarchy.

As with many large organizations, ASU’s hierarchy prevents lower-mid-level and lower-level employees from giving excessive influence to consumers/students except in certain cases. But higher-level players within the organization are motivated, usually altruistic, and exceptionally efficient, especially when compared to their counterparts at other universities.

For this reason, I recommend that the TSG President meets at least twice a semester with the following key players:

Person #1: GPSA President

The President of the Graduate and Professional Students Association meets weekly with an ASU VP, is trusted often with confidential information, and has a direct line with Dr. Crow. The GPSA president can and should advocate on our behalf with ASU administrators and other relevant stakeholders.

Person #2: Dean of Students, ASU Downtown Phoenix Campus

We all must address one significant reality of the downtown move: an increase in the rate of our integration into ASU’s organizational hierarchy, regulatory environment, and its culture. So in the event of a stalemate between Thunderbird’s administrators and the student body, frequent meetings with the Downtown Dean can prove much more helpful now that we’re in ASU’s backyard than when we were way the hell out at 59th Ave.

Tbirds will have no trouble in building relationships with these influential leaders in our greater ASU community, and building clout for TSG will require building these relationships at an institutional level.

Also, when a non-negotiable condition comes down from “on high” at ASU, relationships with higher-ups will serve as essential to secure concessions from administration. In other words, when ASU gives you lemons, you ask them for sugar, a stand, utensils, a sign, and a chair so you can profit off of the lemonade you can make. You might just end up with sugar, a chair, and a stand, but it’s better than just having a bag of lemons.

I also recommend that the TSG president will need to continue meeting with GPSA leadership to navigate how each will relate to the other. I also recommend that, as a way of sharing best practices, TSG leadership should reach out to the law school and the public affairs college to examine how each of those colleges deal with internal matters, like what TSG does for Thunderbird.

2) Year-Long Terms

It may be useful to write into the new TSG constitution that the President must meet with the Dean of Downtown and must meet with the GPSA President at least twice a semester for each person.

That said, here’s something that must happen for the new constitution: Yearlong Terms for TSG. Semester-long terms have left little ability to transition from one TSG to the next, and prove as far too short of a time period for TSG leadership to accomplish goals beyond limited advocacy and some programming. (This is not a knock on TSG leadership at all. Sometimes TSG leaders have gotten a lot done in a little bit of time. But I imagine if you poll each of them, most will agree that they would have loved to have had an extra semester to get done what was needed) With the imminent transition for the MGM program from 18 to 24 months long, students who couldn’t previously run and serve for a full year will soon be able to do so. This significant step, thankfully, is already being worked on, and it will drastically empower the Thunderbird student voice.

Thunderbird-Wide Changes

3) Raise Admissions Standards via Powerful Internal Audit

Many concerning interactions gave me reason to ask questions about how we are doing in admissions, and I can go into detail as needed on those for the TSG candidates who are interested. I understand that Thunderbird recently needed numbers in ways that they hadn’t in the 1990s. But no one wants to feel like just a revenue source for a school that may have had trouble getting enough students.

To strengthen our student experience and secure our quality of peer, I recommend that incoming TSG leadership calls for a comprehensive internal audit of the admissions department, and does whatever is necessary to execute that internal audit and to implement necessary changes, of which I anticipate there will be many. Campus Ambassadors can serve as a great student group for this audit.

From my limited perspective, I believe that:

  • Admissions standards were lowered within the last 10 years to bring in more students, and so it will be discovered (and has been already) that those standards need to be raised significantly to rebuild alumni confidence in the school
  • Faculty are already doing this, but making sure we are reiterating this importance is a good idea
  • To encourage a high bar, perhaps set admissions standards to match those of international students from Ivy-League colleges after they acquire a few years of work experience. Thunderbird’s friendly, open, and excited culture is an advantage compared to the ultra-competitive, sunshine-deprived campuses of New Haven, Connecticut or Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • Certain admissions practices common to Thunderbird’s recruitment were standardized (not isolated incidents) and also lacked candor about factors ranging from the campus move to whether certain students should even enroll as early as they did (a consideration many MAGAMs articulate in being unable to secure MBA-level jobs and internships due to insufficient work experience)

4) Integrate More Travel

Alumni around the world are concerned that Thunderbird is losing the “Mystique” from the campus move. Many articulate that Thunderbird’s essence manifested itself most strongly in the lifestyle that leads to grabbing drinks with fellow Tbirds in Moscow (a personal example), not per se in being on Greenway road in Glendale. Capitalizing on this sentiment, and in keeping with where I think Dr. Booth, Dr. Khagram, and many campus leaders are moving, we must integrate travel as much as possible into the redesigned curricula for MAGAM, MGM, and corresponding concentrations. It’s a great way to bond fellow Tbirds, and show every new student that the mystique is a lifestyle unbound by national borders, let alone the small parameters of a campus in Phoenix.

Ideal Option: Capitalize on Momentum Dr. Khagram is building with Thunderbird’s Global Hubs. Thunderbird has global hubs that are projected to be significantly expanded in scope and services (I’m not the most knowledgeable one on these). Spring 2019 TSG leadership must make sure MGMs, MAGAMs, and others will be able to use those global hubs as resources for studying abroad, professional networking, and general travel, and by doing so will add value to Thunderbird for years to come.

Alternative: Bring Thunderbird into the Global Network for Advanced Management Schools (https://www.advancedmanagement.net)
This recommendation is longer-term and requires significant student, faculty, and administrative buy-in, and I accordingly labeled this “possible” because I have yet to do more research. This aside, this network includes Yale, Oxford, and other significant international contenders not unlike Thunderbird in mission and international-heavy focus. This network also allows for certain second-year students to move to one of the member schools for the student’s second year of the two-year business program. I think this could be a really great opportunity for Thunderbird to bring in great students (and thus attract great professors who will need to be hired soon given our expansion and some professors who will retire in the next 10-20 years) and for Tbird students to get to spend a year elsewhere, especially as they find out where they want to work during the first year of their program.

5) Provide Classes Tbirds Need (Short-Term)

While language immersion programs are certainly in the works to be launched in the near but unspecified future, next Spring’s TSG needs to advocate for Tbirds to secure elective credit for their areas of interest within the ASU system. Here is an example:

Secure language classes for graduate elective credit. Right now, we have the opportunity to take classes within the ASU system, which is a world-class opportunity that many of us students have yet to maximize. That said, many Tbirds want to acquire new languages by the time they finish their time in Thunderbird. But securing graduate-level elective credit at ASU for the 100 or 200-level language classes required for this kind of language acquisition may get struck down by ASU’s curriculum review boards, despite the best efforts of ASU’s language professors (as was my experience with trying to enroll in Russian classes). Navigating the ASU system to institutionalize a Thunderbird exception in those review boards could serve as a solution. Next year’s TSG could leverage the advice given earlier here to enact this recommendation.

6) Ensure constant student input in the new building

TSG must prioritize how we develop a constant student input channel for what we are doing with the new building. At ASU, I was constantly asked for input on the new Student Pavilion building, getting to examine its blueprints, office furniture bids, and overall layout. We, and TSG leadership, should not accept anything less for the new Thunderbird building.

7) IPOS Process Improvement: Hire someone to fix the way we do IPOS

In some cases, whether to offer certain courses in the future depended on which courses students selected as preferred coursework in the IPOS (Interactive Plan of Study software). But the choices given in a Tbird’s IPOS did not accurately reflect which courses would be added at all. Frankly, current staff who would be working on this probably have their hands full with recent hiring changes. The hiring processes for more full-time, perfect-candidate hiring are taking longer than expected. But even hiring an external consultant for a three-month period could help a lot in giving Thunderbird’s staff a good idea of which classes to schedule for upcoming semesters, as well as giving current students more realistic expectations of which classes will be offered.


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