Yale University’s School of Management today (March 5) named a University of Chicago economist with no experience in business education as its new dean. Kerwin Kofi Charles, a distinguished service professor at the Harris School of Public Policy and the college in the University of Chicago for more than 18 years, will succeed Edward ‘Ted’ Snyder on July 1.
Charles, one of only a handful of African-Americans to become dean of a major business school and the first dean of color at SOM, will be following one of the most successful business school deans of his generation. Snyder came to Yale eight years ago after two previous deanships at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. Since his arrival at SOM, Snyder has extended the business school’s global reach, most notably by founding the 30-school Global Network for Advanced Management that has resulted in a number of innovations. He also has moved the school up in numerous rankings, boosted graduate enrollment, and deepened SOM’s connections to Yale University.
Yale passed over two highly qualified and admired deputy deans who have been instrumental in the school’s increasing prominence under Snyder: Anjani Jain, deputy dean for academic programs, and David Bach, deputy dean for academic programs. One of Charles’ first tasks will be to try to retain their expertise to allow SOM to build on the momentum Snyder’s senior leadership team has created.
CHARLES SCHOLARLY WORK MADE A DIFFERENCE
In hiring Charles, the school turned to a scholar who it had tried to employ as a faculty member five years ago. He has studied such topical issues as earnings and wealth inequality, conspicuous consumption, race and gender labor market discrimination, the intergenerational transmission of economic status, worker and family adjustment to job loss and health shocks, non-work among prime-aged persons, and the labor market consequences of housing bubbles.
Many of his research projects have led to headlines in major newspapers and magazines, including a study on the most sexist states in the U.S. (the most sexist is Arkansas and the least is New Hampshire) and the finding that the median earnings gap between black and white men now stands at levels last seen more than 60 years ago.
His academic work clearly made a difference at a business school that has pursued a dual-mission of training leaders for both business and society. To this day, SOM enrolls more students from nonprofits, government and education and puts more graduates into the public sector of the economy than any other prestige business school. “At Yale, we also live a mission that is somewhat unique among business schools,” says Andrew Metrick, a SOM finance professor who chaired the ten-member search committee dominated by SOM faculty members. “It was important to the committee and the vast majority of stakeholders we talked to that the new dean really embodies that mission. I think with Kerwin that just jumps off the page. It’s clear that his experience is what we care about at Yale.”
What’s more, Kerwin brings administrative experience to the job. He has run centers and programs within the Harris School and has served as the school’s deputy dean from 2011 to 2016 and later its interim dean from 2016 to 2017. “He demonstrated a remarkable ability to work with faculty, staff, and students to advance the goals of the school while being a sought-after collaborator for colleagues across the university and the broader academic community,” Yale President Peter Salovey said in a statement.
SEARCH COMMITTEE MET WITH FIRST ROUND OF A DOZEN CANDIDATES LAST SEPTEMBER
It was nearly a year to the day when Snyder announced that he would step down on March 7 of last year (see Yale SOM Dean ‘Ted’ Snyder To Call It Quits). The search, assisted by the executive search firm of Heidrick & Struggles, began with conversations among Yale’s stakeholders, from faculty and staff to students and alumni. “Before we interviewed candidates, we met with various stakeholders and did a world tour of alumni,” adds Metrick. “Kerwin Charles was in from the beginning. We had our eye on Kerwin for a long time. We tried very, very hard to hire him as a faculty member five years ago when he was a successful administrator at that time.”
The committee met with the first round of a dozen candidates in September for “airport style” interviews. “We were quite favorably impressed by our original round, especially with so many schools in the market looking for deans,” explains Metrick. At the time, dean searchers were underway at the business schools at Northwestern University, UCLA and UC-Berkeley. “It was an exceptionally strong pool and we had several people interview with us who said they were particularly interested in being the dean of SOM and had not interviewed for previous positions.”
The search committee moved onto a slate of finalists in the fall of last year, ultimately delivering several names to President Solovey. “He was the decider,” says Metrick. “All of the finalists were very strong. We were nervous we would go into this and not have a lot of agreement, but we did, in fact, agree and delivered a slate of finalists, all of whom we were happy with. In Kerwin’s case, I think it was a combination of things that made us excited about him. He is a first-rate scholar and one of the jobs you have as dean is to lead the faculty and inspire them to do their best work. He is a wonderful example for students. Those qualities make him an influential scholarly leader.”
‘I AM AWARE OF MY RELATIVE RARITY IN THIS THING’
He also has earned a reputation as a highly compelling teacher in class. When Charles delivered a lecture on the economics of race in America at Wharton last year, Wharton Dean Geoffrey Garrett introduced him as a “walk-on-water teacher” who had received “the highest honor bestowed on faculty at the University of Chicago” when he was named faculty speaker at convocation in 2014.
After the lecture, Garrett asked Charles how he felt about being a role model as a successful African-American academic. “I am aware of my relative rarity in this thing,” said Charles. “And so I am conscious about a kind of group obligation. It doesn’t mean that I’m more attentive to my black PhD students than I would be to a white woman whom I’m advising. That’s not what I mean. What it means is that if I can — here or there — I will offer encouraging words or share stories. I will not lie and tell you that I don’t. I very much do and I’m aware of it. That’s a kind of direct investment I would make. It’s not a huge one but it’s a real one.”
Serving as a role model to others, he added, has been important to him. “Being a professor is on the one hand a wonderful job, very rewarding and fun and one has great freedom, but I believe I have obligations as well and I would hope that the students with whom I interact say, ‘that is the kind of professor I would like to be,’ irrespective of race.”