Wanted: smooth-talking politician able to balance often conflicting demands from vastly different constituents. Risks, high. Job, all-consuming. And you will be blamed for everything that goes wrong.
The job description for a chief executive officer? Try the dean of a business school in the 1990s. Faced with mounting pressures from corporate benefactors, tenured faculty, and ever-demanding students, B-school deans are turning over in record numbers--often in the midst of controversy. All told, some 84 of the nation's 700-plus business schools, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Washington University, are searching for deans, says the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).
NO MORE MR. CHIPS. The University of Colorado at Boulder has just lost its fifth dean in eight years. Eight months after becoming dean at the University of Rochester, William E. Mayer abruptly resigned his position over a funding dispute in May, 1992. The dean of Yale's School of Organization & Management, who attracted criticism for his efforts to remake the school, departed last year after four years in the job--not far behind the university president, who had supported him throughout the brouhaha.
The lesson: A business-school deanship is hardly the sinecure it once was. "The image is of a Mr. Chips as dean, spending all of his or her time with students and faculty in an idyllic academic environment," says John W. Rosenblum, who is stepping down as dean of the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business. "You have to be a general manager, a politician, a fundraiser, and a division manager negotiating with a corporate office."
It seems as if B-school deans are bailing out right and left--or being thrown out. In the past five years, their average tenure has fallen a full year, to just four years, says the AACSB. Schools now regularly employ executive-search consultants, at fees of up to $50,000, to scare up possible candidates. Heidrick & Struggles Inc., which just placed a new dean at Indiana University, has done seven searches for B-school deans in the past 12 months, up from only two a year in 1988. And the searches rarely are quick and tidy affairs. Georgia Institute of Technology's School of Management had been without a permanent dean for four years before finally landing Arthur Kraft, previously a dean at Rutgers, this month.
What's behind the exodus? In many cases, deans are simply resigning after having served for many years. Richard R. West decided to return to the classroom after a 16-year stint as top dog, first at Dartmouth's Amos Tuck School and then at New York University's Stern School of Business. Lester Thurow, dean of MIT's Sloan School, called it quits after six years. At the University of California at Los Angeles, Dean J. Clayburn LaForce is retiring after 15 years. "I've often said it's like running a dairy," jokes LaForce. "The cows are there in the morning and at night, and you've got to be there seven days a week. It's the intensity that doesn't even let up during the summer that tires people out."
SCATHING REPORT. Many find the politics just as tiring. Being the dean of a business school can become the prototypical burnout job, a trying experience that can frustrate the most seasoned professional. Mayer, a former chief executive of First Boston Corp., lasted eight months at Rochester. "Often, you do not have a complete symmetry between accountability and authority," he says. "At the end of the day you can fire somebody in a corporation, but here you can't fire a faculty member." Mayer must be a glutton for punishment: He became dean of the University of Maryland's B-school five months after leaving Rochester.
Rosenblum, who exits Virginia's B-school this month after 11 years as dean, can speak from experience about some of the frustrations. He led the school's rise to prominence, getting high marks as a spirited leader known for his candor and accessibility. But in his final year as dean, he came under attack from several quarters. In April of last year, an outside committee concluded the school was a "hostile climate for women."
Then, Rosenblum took heat from students when he canned a popular professor. Last October, an anonymous group of black students issued a scathing report alleging racism at Darden. Rosenblum denies the charges. "It was much harder to be dean at the end of my career than at the beginning," he says. "Not only are we facing more economic pressures but also more public scrutiny and awareness."
The bottom line: Heading a B-school these days may be as tough as or tougher than running a company in the age of restructuring and heavy layoffs. "It's a change-making job: If you don't make change you're going to lose your job," says B. Joseph White, a former Cummins Engine Co. executive who now is dean of the University of Michigan's business school. But, adds White, "you can't make change without breaking china, and that probably puts a cap on the length of time you can be effective." And given all the forces at work on B-schools these days, the cap is coming down every year.
FIVE B-SCHOOLS IN SEARCH OF A DEAN School Departing dean Length of Length of tenure search so far MIT LESTER THUROW 6 years 3 months UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER WILLIAM E. MAYER 8 months 2 months USC JACK R. BORSTING 5 years 3 months UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA JOHN W. ROSENBLUM 11 years 6 months WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY ROBERT L. VIRGIL 17 years 9 months DATA: BUSINESS WEEK