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Syracuse Ousts Dean Of Business School

Whitman Dean Kenneth Kavajecz was removed from his job by the university

Whitman Dean Kenneth Kavajecz was removed from his job by the university

Little more than three years in the job, Kenneth Kavajecz found himself ousted as dean of Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management. The University announced yesterday (Sept. 14) that it had removed Kavajecz as dean and also placed him on an administrative move from his faculty position “until further notice.”

Citing unnamed sources, CNYCentral.com, a local broadcast station in the Syracuse market, reported that the dean’s removal was prompted by a criminal investigation. No other details were reported. Kavajecz, who had been recruited from Wisconsin Business School three and one-half years ago, did not respond to an email seeking comment.

“I recognize change is never easy and transition is rarely seamless,” Wheatly said in an email sent to members of the Whitman community. “But, I want you to know that Vice Chancellor Haynie and I are committed to working with you in the coming days to identify an interim leader who will oversee the continued growth and success of the Whitman School.” She said that Vice Chancellor J. Michael Haynie, a tenured faculty member in the Whitman School, would immediately serve as interim dean of the business school.


Only two weeks earlier, the student newspaper, The Daily Orange, had run a highly flattering profile on Kavajecz. “In the first few months on the job, he listened to faculty and staff in one-on-one and group meetings,” according to the story. “He chatted with students of all grade levels. More than three years later, transparency is still at the core of his leadership style: his office door is usually open, he includes his cell phone number in emails and he greets faculty and staff by their names.”

By all accounts, he seemed to have both the support and the admiration of the Whitman community. “He shook everything up,” Giuseppe Castelli, a Class of 2016 alum, told The Daily Orange. “Everything settled after years and years of complacency. He put the right people in the right places and brought this sense of urgency to the school that I didn’t see my freshman year. An urgency and fire to make us a top-notch school.” The newspaper quoted Will Geoghegan, assistant professor of management, as saying: “I don’t think anyone works harder to make this business school succeed than Dean K.”

The school’s full-time MBA program is ranked 89th best in the U.S. by Poets&Quants, having dropped six places from its year-ago rank of 83rd. The school’s undergraduate business program was just ranked 43rd by U.S. News & World Report, exactly the same rank it held last year.


The most visible move made by Kavajecz as dean was to turnover the school’s online MBA program to 2U, a private, for-profit online degree platform that partners with colleges to develop interactive course materials and live classes. The Whitman school had entered the distance learning business in 1977, but decided that its existing product was antiquated and signed the deal with 2U, which often takes a majority of the revenue from such programs. The partnership began with the January 2015 cohort.

The 50-year-old Kavajecz joined Whitman in July of 2013, after spending more than ten years at Wisconsin Business School in Madison as a professor of finance, starting in May of 2003. He started his teaching career at the Wharton School in 1996 as an assistant professor for seven years after earning his PhD from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. When he left Wisconsin, he was associate dean of both the undergraduate program and the full-time MBA program.

At the time of his appointment as dean, Kavajecz beat out two other final candidates, Urton Anderson from the University of Texas at Austin and Donna Rapaccioli from Fordham University. Anderson was chair of the accounting department and professor of accounting at the McCombs School of Business, while Rapaccioli was dean of the Gabelli School of Business at Fordham.


One issue that could not have helped Kavajecz: The chancellor and provost who selected him as dean are no longer at the school. Vice Chancellor and Provost Michele Wheatly only assumed her job less than six months ago in May from West Virginia University, where she served as provost. The university Chancellor and President Kent Syverud arrived from Washington University in January of 2014, six months after Kavajecz became Whitman dean.

Wheatly and Haynie, the interim dean of the business school, plan to meet with the Whitman community this Friday (Sept. 16) “to discuss future interim leadership of the Whitman School,” the university said.