BRATTLEBORO -- In the past few years, sustainability has become a ubiquitous catch phrase, encompassing everything from the environment, resource management, food systems, fundraising and the bottom line.
Six years ago, the Marlboro College Graduate School, recognizing a need for a graduate program focusing on sustainable business practices, brought Ralph Meima on board to help design a "multiple-bottom-line" MBA program.
The intent of the program was to help business leaders understand the impact of management practices on their business, the environment, the workforce, local cultures and profits.
But along the way, Marlboro discovered the emergence of similar programs around the country was threatening the sustainability of its own MBA.
"Our numbers are not as robust as they could be," said Sean Conley, associate dean.
Concerned that its MBA in Managing for Sustainability was in danger due to declining enrollment, the decision was made to make administrative changes to reduce overhead, he said. Conley called it "right sizing," a process of making sure the administrative structure matches the number of students in a program.
Though Meima put his personal stamp on the program, Meima was not teaching, said Conley.
"Other program directors are teaching a lot and playing other roles within the institution," he said.
As a result, Meima's position was "significantly reduced." His replacement will be a
"He will be leaving, and I don't blame him," said Conley.
"I've been laid off," said Meima. "I was not given an opportunity to remain. It came as a shock. I invested five-and-a-half years to make it the best possible sustainability oriented program. Its future is now in other people's hands."
Meima, whose last day on the job will be Aug. 31, was the founding director of the MBA in Managing for Sustainability. He recruited faculty and built local relationships as he developed the program.
Before starting the MBA program, Meima, with degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Johns Hopkins University of Advanced International Studies, the Wharton School of Business, University Of Pennsylvania and Lund University, taught Organizational Management at the School for International Training.
Heslin said making administrative changes was one way of ensuring the sustainability of the program itself.
"MBA programs around the country are down," said Heslin
"Enrollment has been challenging the last year-and-a-half," agreed Meima.
Heslin described MBA programs as "quickly divergent continents."
"The classic, traditional 60-credit MBA is focused on a brand promotion of personal wealth," he said. "It's hard and rigorous but when you come out of it you make a ton of cash."
But the inchoate "green" MBA programs present business as a mechanism for social change on a "local" level. What Heslin means by "local" level is a small-scale action that can lead to a massive organizational change where things are done better and more responsibly.
Marlboro's program was one of the first of its kind in the eastern United States, said Meima, though Green Mountain College in Poultney and Antioch New England in Keene, N.H., quickly followed suit.
He described the MBA as "a very exciting program ... big and dynamic, with a wonderful group of students and faculty members. It's a fantastic community."
Though Meima said he was sorry to have to leave the program, he thinks if it's managed properly, it will survive.
"I wish the program well," he said. "I don't know what its prospects are and I don't know how it's going to be managed. There are a lot of unknowns, but it certainly can survive. Given the right sort of business model and management, it should be able to carry on."
Though administrative changes are being implemented, staffing will stay pretty much where it is now, said Conley, and the content of the courses will remain the same.
Heslin said while it wasn't easy to cut Meima's position, it was necessary.
"We have a responsibility to adapt," he said. "We are committed to keeping the program. We want to make it viable but we don't want to become a ‘big-box' school."
Meima is not sure what he is going to do now.
"We would like to stay in Brattleboro," he said. "My wife has a great job and our kids are involved in the school and the community. We don't have any plans to move on. If we can stay here we will. I'm sure I'll find interesting things to do."
Until Aug. 31, Meima said "I'll do my best to facilitate the transition."
In addition to changes in the MBA in Managing for Sustainability, two of the graduate school's other programs, the BS in Managing Information Systems and the MS in Information Technologies, have been combined under a single director.
Bob Audette can be reached at email@example.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.