Chicago’s New Dean Pursues Globalization, Stronger Alumni Network

Then, in 1991, Kumar came to the U.S. to study for his Ph.D. in electrical engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The first time he stepped in front of a classroom was as a graduate teaching assistant at Illinois where he taught undergrads how to control the speed of motors. “I liked it, and I have liked it since,” he says simply. “I enjoy teaching.” In 1996, he joined the faculty at Stanford where he taught courses in operations management, technology, critical analytical thinking and revenue management.

Unlike his predecessor who already had a deanship under his belt at Virginia’s Darden School along with four years as an associate dean at Michigan’s Ross School, Kumar has never held the top job and has only scant leadership experience. His first administrative assignment came in the fall of 2005 when he was invited onto a curriculum task force at Stanford. “That’s when I realized that there were aspects of the job that I enjoyed,” he says. When Garth Saloner, a task force colleague and architect of a resulting curriculum overhaul, became dean of Stanford in the fall of 2009, Kumar became one of four senior associate deans. He had been a Saloner deputy for less than a full year when Chicago announced his appointment last July.


What did he learn from the experience? “The students, the staff, and the faculty all want the same thing, which is a position of preeminence in the space,” he says. “It is true of Stanford and Chicago and many of the top schools. They disagree on how to get there. But the fact that everybody buys into this basic vision actually makes things not as hard as you would expect. Any curricular innovation imposes pretty heavy costs on the faculty. But they do it because they care about the institution. That is what I learned: how deeply people care about the institution.”

He sees few differences between Stanford and Chicago. “They recruit faculty very similarly,” he says. “I was recruited from a discipline to teach courses related to engineering. There is a strong culture of both taking research and teaching very seriously. Of course, Stanford–and I’m just repeating data here–is a smaller program. It has just one MBA granting program which is has always been smaller than Chicago, and Chicago has a variety of other programs—evening, weekend and the EMBA.”

At Chicago, he anticipates no major changes in the curriculum, noting that the last review of the MBA program occurred only three years ago. Little change came from that review despite the financial meltdown then in progress, increasing questions other ethics in business, and the galloping pace of globalization. A committee that included no alumni, current students or representatives from companies that recruit MBAs from Chicago performed the review. Instead, 11 senior professors, also chosen by a vote of the tenure track faculty, ran the review.

In support of the position to essentially maintain the status quo, the group produced a study that showed some 92 percent of the school’s recent graduates were either satisfied or very satisfied with the education they received. “That is a data point toward the following hypothesis: our curriculum is robust,” he says. “The students and alumni find the curriculum valuable. So my conversations with the faculty have been more about how we can strengthen our core areas and how we can broaden some of the other areas where we could do more.”

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