Chicago Booth Dean Warned About Faculty’s Resistance To Change

Chicago Booth Dean

Chicago Booth Dean Madhav Rajan

Before accepting the deanship at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, Madhav Rajan says he was warned that the school’s faculty would likely resist any effort at change.

“A lot of people tried to warn me about coming here,” says Rajan in an interview published by the University of Chicago. “One of the search firm’s questions was about the reputation that Chicago faculty have no interest in change: Did I think I’d be frustrated trying to be dean?”

That view of Booth’s entrenched professors, particularly the most powerful and influential faculty members in the school’s finance department, was not especially new. Of all the major business schools, Booth has been a laggard in recruiting and retaining female faculty. Only three other business schools among the 100 ranked by the Financial Times have fewer women in teaching and research roles. The 19% in female faculty at Booth compares with 33% at both Harvard Business School and UC Berkeley’s Haas School.

‘THE FACULTY HAVE BEEN VERY OPEN TO CHANGE’

But in the interview Rajan insists that he found Booth faculty much more willing to support his two major initiatives: the launch of a joint undergraduate major with Chicago’s Economics Department and the school’s creation of a Master’s in Management program that debuts next year.

“That’s not been true at all,” says Rajan of the reputation of the faculty to be unwilling to adapt to new circumstances or ways of doing things. “I have a vision for what I want to achieve, but that has very much been driven by faculty input. The faculty have been very open to change, and we’ve had an amazing number of changes that we’ve been able to realize.”

In hiring Rajan in 2017 from the Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, Chicago brought aboard a dean with no prior affiliation withThe big risk, of course, in UChicago hiring me was that I had no connection to it. I’d never been a student, never been faculty, and dropping somebody from outside into a place with a very strong culture—you know, you could get organ rejection pretty easily. That didn’t happen.”

THE UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT’S DIRECTIVE: ‘SHAKE THINGS UP’

Rajan recalls that then-University President Robert J.] Zimmer hired him to shake things up. “He said, ‘I love what you did at Stanford, creating a joint degree with computer science and the business school. I want you to do similar things here.’ The biggest shake-up has been the business specialization within the economics major that we started in 2018–19 in partnership with the College. It’s attracting new students who would never have applied, and in the long run it’s going to be hugely beneficial to the University of Chicago. For the longest time, we were the Graduate School of Business, with no connection to the College. I think long after I’m gone, that will be the biggest change I’ll have brought to Booth.”

The dean also singled out his forthcoming launch of a one-year Master’s in Management. “Another change will come next year,” adds Rajan. “We are starting a new degree program for the first time in decades. Up to now, the only programs we taught were the PhD and MBA. Next year we’ll start teaching a one-year master’s in management. This was approved unanimously by our faculty, and getting faculty to approve anything unanimously, I think, is an achievement. My vision for this is a 4+1 year program. Somebody comes to UChicago, wants to study a STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] major or a liberal arts major as opposed to business economics or economics. They can do that, then stay for a year and get the master’s in management. It’s a great way to let students major in whatever their passion is and then, in the fifth year, get a business degree on top of that.”

‘EVERYBODY THINKS OF BOOTH AS A FINANCE SCHOOL’

Asked to identify the most common misperception about Booth, Rajan says it is that many believe the business school is largely a school of finance. “When you speak to people outside,” he adds, “everybody thinks of Booth as a finance school. That’s because we’ve had so many alumni who’ve done so well in finance. I think that’s wrong; what we’ve always been is a great data school.

“What made us great in finance was that we were the first school to have a financial database, back in the 1960s. I think of Chicago as the school that is the best at allowing people to do innovative, risky projects involving data of all kinds to solve important problems. If you speak to alumni from 20 years ago, they don’t think of Chicago as a marketing school. But the field of marketing has changed and become very quantitative. We’ve been able to disrupt that field and become the best in the world because we have the best marketing researchers who are experts at using data.”

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