UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business is the only top-10 business school in the United States to have been led by two women. On Tuesday (February 5) both — the former and the current — sat down together for a wide-ranging live-streamed conversation on the Berkeley campus, discussing major challenges, including the school’s diversity struggles, as well as influences and leadership styles and the school’s mission, culture, and more.
The conversation between former Dean Laura Tyson and new Dean Ann Harrison was the latest installment in the school’s Dean’s Speaker Series, which usually features discussions between professors or lecturers and prominent business leaders. This time around, the “fireside chat” was between “two incredibly accomplished and inspiring women leaders,” as they were introduced by Courtney Chandler, Haas senior assistant dean and chief strategy and operating officer. From the jump, in what was doubtless her introduction to many in the Haas community, Harrison candidly recounted her experiences and the path that led her to the deanship.
“I guarantee I have had more bizarre jobs than anyone in this room,” Harrison told a standing-room-only audience, who greeted the pronouncement with laughter. Most recently a professor at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Harrison, while attending UC-Berkeley as an undergraduate in the early 1980s, “worked in an ice cream store, I worked as a caterer opening bottles of champagne, I worked as a waitress at a local bar. This is embarrassing, I probably shouldn’t be sharing all this! But at some point I decided, ‘I’m smart, I should be using my brains,’ and I went the Economics Department and there was a posting to be a teaching assistant. And even though I was an undergraduate, this wonderful professor hired me and he convinced me to go and get a Ph.D. in economics.”
A NEW DEAN TO TACKLE A BIG CHALLENGE: PLUMMETING BLACK ENROLLMENT
Harrison, who was raised in California and who earned her undergraduate degree from UC-Berkeley in economics and history in 1982, got that Ph.D. in economics from Princeton University in 1991; she also earned a diplôme d’études universitaires générales from the University of Paris. From 2001 to 2011 she was a professor in Berkeley’s Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics. Born in France, she is a dual French-U.S. citizen who has also taught at Columbia Business School, the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and the University of Paris. After seven years teaching at Wharton, Harrison began her term as Haas’ new dean on January 2, succeeding long-time Dean Rich Lyons in the culmination of a more-than-year-long search.
When Lyons left the Berkeley Haas deanship last summer, the school needed a stopgap while it continued to search for a permanent replacement. In stepped Tyson, who already had served as Haas’ dean from 1997 to 2001; among her many roles since, she was dean of London Business School from 2002 to 2006. After her stint as interim dean before Harrison’s arrival, Tyson returned to her role is as faculty director for the school’s Institute for Business and Social Impact. Amid all this, Berkeley Haas has maintained its status as a top-10 school, ranking No. 8 in the latest P&Q ranking, up one spot from the year before.
But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Even before Harrison took the reins, trouble signs arose for the school last fall when it was revealed that Haas had seen a dramatic nosedive in black student enrollment in the incoming 2018 MBA cohort. Alumni and current students were in an uproar, and it fell to Tyson, as interim dean, and the rest of Haas leadership to address the thorny issue. The school issued a report, co-authored by Chandler, followed by an action plan; Tyson, in an interview with Poets&Quants, acknowledged that there was a severe problem with black student yield, and said that among the underlying issues was that “We don’t have adequate funding for scholarships, period.”
‘BERKELEY AND HAAS DON’T LOOK LIKE THE REST OF CALIFORNIA’
Others have cited Haas’ culture as a problem; clearly, something has been causing black students to choose to go to graduate school elsewhere. Asked during the Speaker Series event about the culture of the school, Harrison, who as dean is a member of the management team that was established to implement the recommendations of the action plan, said one of the main things she will focus on is diversity and inclusion.
“Berkeley and Haas don’t look like the rest of California,” Harrison said, “and I think that is something we need to address.” Offering what surprised her most about the school, she said, “I was a little surprised at the lack of diversity, particularly among the faculty who I’ve been spending a lot of time with. So that is a challenge, and there are other challenges associated with diversity and inclusion.” One big one has to do with gender and career outcomes: Harrison noted that in a presentation from students she was told “a fact that just blew me away” — that “10 years out, for every dollar that a male MBA who graduated from our program is earning, women are earning only 57 cents. That is also something that we need to address.”
Reflecting on challenges faced by not only Haas but business schools in general — in particular a sustained drop in applications to MBA programs — Harrison recalled some recent words of wisdom from a colleague.
“Of course there are challenges on the horizon,” she said. “There’s flattening demand for a graduate business school education, certainly by looking at the numbers. There’s a flight to quality, and since we’re quality, we have benefited from some of that flight to quality, but as my dean at Wharton (Geoff Garrett) told me during a late-night dinner, he said, ‘We’re on this island, and the water is rising.'”