Dean Of The Year: The Cajun From New Orleans

A cartoon drawn by Paul Danos

A cartoon drawn by Paul Danos


Danos not only wanted to increase the size of the place, he wanted to do so in a way that wouldn’t disrupt the culture that made Tuck so unique. And he also wanted to recruit more faculty with research chops in the belief that no institution could be a top-tier business school without a research faculty steeped in the latest thinking in their disciplines. “Paul believes wholeheartedly that the prestige and success of the school depends very much on the prestige and success of the faculty,” says Hansen. It was a move that could have potentially weakened the quality of teaching in the classrooms, but Danos insisted that his newly recruited professors do both.

Initially, the focus was placed on recruiting senior faculty with established track records of success. After building a research environment, the hiring shifted to more rookie professors. Tuck was at an immediate disadvantage because it lacked a PhD program. To make Tuck more attractive, Danos reduced teaching loads by 25%, gave faculty research budgets they could control, and brought in a staff of full-time computing professionals to help with statistical analysis and database management. Then, the school added a group of Tuck Fellows, full-time staffers who help faculty design cases, run review sessions and help with grades. And the faculty came from Duke, MIT, Yale, Harvard and many other top business schools.

Teaching remained an imperative, however. “If we go after someone, they know that teaching is important at Tuck,” says Hansen, who helped to recruit new talent to the school. “It’s important because it’s essentially the only program we have. We live and die on the MBA program. People who are thinking of coming here know that they want to put effort into their teaching. We ascertain that they are interested in teaching.”

Hansen says student evaluations of professors and courses remained extremely high throughout the transformation to today. “We have always had high rating, but the bad case scenarios are down and the averages are up,” he says. “The number of faculty we have that just knock it out of the park is just amazing. And across the board, there also has been tremendous improvement in research, editorships, prizes, number of articles and citations by our faculty.”


Danos agrees. “As we have grown and gotten a more scholarly faculty, we have also improved the spirit of the place,” says Danos. “It is a myth that if you get that kind of faculty you will lose the learning characteristics that everyone wants. That kind of blending and keeping it at our scale, while almost doubling the size of the place, has worked. So people feel like this is a tight community. Every year 280 strangers come into this place and they form this unbelievable bond over a year and they have it for life. It is an amazing thing to see happen.”

That bond is clearly evident in the annual giving rates of Tuck alumni. More than 70% give money to the institution each year, triple the average of the other top ten schools. “It’s about as high as you can get,” crows Danos. “What is important about that is, it’s indicative about how the students feel about their experience here. We built the dorms within 100 feet of the classrooms and that community spirit has worked for us. As we have grown the school and achieved this scholarly goal, we have we have been able to increase the community spirit. And the students graduating today are more supportive than ever, with 80% giving rates from these latest classes.”

During Dano’s tenure, his biggest challenge was “to try to close the circle between the depth of faculty understanding in their fields and a great learning experience in the classroom. “I wanted to to find ways for students to appreciate the faculty’s expertise and to make sure the faculty could translate that expertise into something meaningful for the students.” The result: An innovation called Research To Practice seminars, courses that allow a professor to share research interests with groups of no more than 15 students. “Those seminars,” says Danos, “are as close to closing the circle for MBAs as I have seen anywhere. It’s expensive, but it does something that reconciles this long-standing friction between research and teaching.”

When Danos first proposed the idea, many faculty believed students would have little interest in the seminars. Undaunted, he forged ahead, proved their success, and now there are a dozen of them a year. “Today, these courses are among the highest rated we have,” says Danos. “It allowed me to create something that is compatible with the way I see the ideal business faculty. It feels right from every angle. It touches on the core of why we have academics teaching in business schools, and the students love it.”


Hansen, who taught one of the first seminars on the economics of the credit crisis in the spring of 2009, helped to make the idea successful. “The seminars are the new way of faculty interacting on a close scale with students,” he says. “On the old days, you might go to a professor’s house for dinner. We still do a fair amount of that. But with 12 students siting around a table and talking about research, you have that interaction at an intellectual plane. That is pretty cool.”

Throughout the changes, Danos remained highly accessible and hands-on. For one thing, he likes to walk the halls, stop by the office of a faculty member and informally engage. “He just shows up in your office,” says Helfat. “The first time he did this I was shocked. I never had a dean show up unannounced in my office. And then I realized he just came to see what I was up to and to chat. It was a way to be in touch with faculty. He gets to know the faculty quite well.”

Sally Jaeger, assistant dean and director of the MBA program, recalls that two years ago, Danos wandered into her office. “Paul has this wonderful habit of walking around the school and checking in on people,” she remembers. “I was at my computer and had just found out that my mother was diagnosed with cancer. He looked at me and immediately noticed I was distressed. ‘What’s wrong?,’ he asked. I told him and the first words out of his mouth were, ‘What can I do?’ Before I knew it, he was putting me in touch with doctors who could help. As a boss, I will never have anyone as good as Paul, as thoughtful and as supportive but also as tough. He has high expectations of the people who work for him.”

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