Over the past few years, business school deans have come under the scrutinizing eye of the media, as some schools have been actively recruiting new deans while getting rid of old ones. How important are deans to their schools? Can a good dean champion an MBA program to success? Let’s have a look at what deans actually do.
One of the main functions of a dean is to provide guidance, steering their school in specific academic and philosophical directions. A dean’s direction should ultimately provide a mission – and he or she should implement programs to meet goals. Last year, the business school world watched a shift in philosophy at Harvard when its business school named Nitin Nohria as its new dean. Nohria, who has long-developed interests in both business conduct and corporate transformation (he authored a great, forward-thinking book called Changing Fortunes: Remaking the Industrial Corporation,) quickly moved to integrate business ethics and a focus on teamwork into the school’s revamped curriculum. Although this shift can be seen as reactionary – many critics of HBS are quick to point out that some of their MBAs like Enron’s Jeffrey Skilling acted rather unethically in their business dealings – it also represents a legitimate commitment to curtail these moral lapses. At the very least, Nohria’s appointment demonstrates a continued transition away from an era of American exceptionalism: Jay Light, Harvard’s previous dean, had made strides to re-brand Harvard as a global school, strides that Nohria will undoubtedly lengthen with his international focus.