The new dean of Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business may have come from an insitution highly admired for the teaching quality of its faculty. But one of the first things Peter Rodriguez has done at Rice Business is to launch an online magazine based on peer-reviewed research.
Superb teaching and scholarly research are often in conflict with each other at many business schools. But Rodriguez, who spent more than a dozen years at a school known to have the best MBA teaching faculty in the world, believes his faculty produces top-notch research and he wants to make it more accessible to practitioners (see Darden: Where Great Teachers Are Gods).
The online magazine, called RiceBusinessWisdom.org, will not be dry or esoteric. Rodriguez, who became dean on July 1, insists that the school’s best research on finance, workplace psychology, ethics, investing and leadership, can be delivered in a “lively, witty format brief enough to read on your phone.” The first edition of the product features articles on one’s imaginary self, personal savings, the principles vs. the rules of accounting, and an unusual experiment by the Securities & Exchange Commission to waive limits on short selling.
BUILDING AWARENESS AT A RELATIVELY SMALL BUSINESS SCHOOL
“We’re translating peer reviewed articles, making them into 500-word pieces that really get into the heart of the matter. It will reflect our culture. Rice is really a research culture, with small class sizes and a physical campus. It is highly selective. The undrgraduate reputation is stellar, and it is the best known part of the school. It is a small school with a university’s depth and ambition. So it translates to a comparatively challenging process of awareness of the MBA programs.”
The online magazine coincides with a campaign of sorts to adopt a nickname for the school: Rice Business. “We want to expand the awareness of the school with prospective students,” explains Rodriguez. “People who know the school know the university, but they don’t tend to know the business school that well. We are selecting a nickname Rice Business because whenever our students talk about the school they say Rice and whenever recruiters come they say Rice.”
At Rice Business, Rodriguez inherited a diverse portfolio of programs, including an undergraduate business minor that is the most popular on campus, with more than 1,000 students, a full-time MBA program with an annual intake of 110 students a year, an Executive MBA program with 65 incoming students annually, an evening MBA program for professionals with about 150 to 180 students a year, and a master’s of accountancy.
WHISPERING INTO THE DEAN’S EAR
The dean says that he started the job with a listening initiative “to start to learn what is working and what is not.” His core question: “If you can whisper into the dean’s ear, what are the two or three things I should focus on.” Rodriguez says, “My approach was to ask everyone to show me all the measures we have to make my own assessment and then to hear the narrative from many different perspectives. Sometimes urgent things arrive and they are obvious. For the rest it was taking advantage of my newness to ask questions that maybe had been asked before. There is a great benefit to not have been an insider. I wasn’t part of any story line that was a plus or minus. So i was able to get a good asessment of the place and how people viewed the transiton of the school.”
His early diagnosis? “One of our great strengths is that we are a highly selective school in one of the nation’s most global cities,” says Rodriguez. “Energy and healthcare is big. We have an opportunity to engage more deeply with companies and produce people for the highest quality regional jobs and be a net talent source for the city of Houston. We have the big energy footprint, with the access that gives you to the Middle East and North Africa, and we are close to Mexico. Shipping gives you a window on Asia.”
Less than three months into the job, Rodriguez says his mind is filled with more questions than answers. “Do we have the optimal scale? Do we need to think about the portfolio and what fields we might want to emphasize? Entrepreneurship is a field where we could be in the top ten because of all the opporutnity in and around Houston. So we continue to investigate the idea of a major in entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is hot here and we have the largest business plan competition of any school in the world. We’ll look very carefully at an online program. Even for schools that have the great benefit of being in an urban area, the quality that you can achieve with an online program is terrific, and we would love to be able to serve a broader region than Houston.”
Asked what he most missses about Darden, where he had lived for 13 years, Rodriguez says friends. “I lived there for 13 years and had great relationships,” he adds. “I liked the countryside very much. And although it’s not specifically Darden, I miss teaching. I miss being in the classroom with students as they go through the arc of the program.”
Said like a true teacher.