Wharton hires new dean, faces several challenges

March 17, 2014, 10:18 PM UTC
Incoming Wharton Dean Geoffrey Garrett speaking at TEDxSydney in 2012

FORTUNE — The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School has a new dean. On Monday, the school announced that Geoffrey Garrett, current head of the Australian School of Business at Sydney’s University of New South Wales, would replace Wharton’s current Dean Thomas Robertson, effective July 1.

Garrett, an Australian native, will leave Sydney after a little over one year on the job to return to the States, where he has spent most of his teaching career at institutions including Stanford, UCLA, Yale, and Wharton itself. In a statement Monday, he spoke briefly about the challenges and opportunities facing the B-school marketplace.

“Like other sectors, globalization and technological change are poised to transform business education,” Garrett said. “I have no doubt Wharton will be in the vanguard of this transformation in America and around the world.”

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His appointment comes at a time of upheaval for the elite business school. In September, the Wall Street Journal reported that Wharton was losing its luster, as prospective students snubbed the Wall Street powerhouse for trendier — and techier — campuses such as the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Less than a week after the Journal article ran, the school’s admissions chief, Ankur Kumar, resigned her post.

Garrett will be taking the reins during a period in which Wharton’s application numbers have slumped relative to other top schools. Wharton’s application volume dropped 12% in the last four years and posted a 5.8% decline last year. By comparison, Stanford’s applications rose 5.8% and Harvard’s climbed by 3.9%. Part of the decline may have to do with Wharton’s standing as the school of choice for titans of finance, a career path that has lost some of its appeal since the financial crisis.

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Garrett has signaled he’s willing to experiment with today’s B-school market trends. He co-authored a paper on “technology-enabled universities” last year, and has advocated for putting more academic materials online. While at the Australian School of Business, he touted the school’s appeal to fast-growing Asian markets as one of its key differentiators.

Garrett has voiced some skepticism over MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, but has said that the MBA of the future will “allow students to do much of the work on their smart phones after their families have gone to bed.”

To subvert what he has called the “decades-old rut of jargon and navel-gazing” at MBA programs, the incoming Wharton dean has promoted increased emphasis on in-person interactions and aggressive tech adoption. “The future is bright,” Garrett wrote in a paper last year. “But it will require universities to embrace radical change to a centuries-old model, and to do so at a pace much more rapid than normal ‘university time.’”