ICYMI: Thriving as a Dean in Turbulent Times

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Wednesday, March 13, 2024
By Tricia Bisoux
Photo by iStock/Moon Safari
A selection of insights to help business school deans keep their institutions vibrant and relevant in a rapidly changing higher education market.
  • Tasked with navigating rapid change and meeting the evolving needs of stakeholder groups, business school deans are finding their jobs more challenging than ever.
  • Enrollments, financial management, societal impact, and rapid change are among deans’ most pressing concerns, according to AACSB’s latest surveys of senior administrators.
  • Whether by adopting new financial models, more intentionally distributing school resources, or more effectively tapping the power of data, administrators have strategies at their disposal that can help lessen the stresses of academic leadership.


Ask business school deans what the toughest aspects of their jobs are, and it’s likely that many of the issues they mention will come as no surprise. Fundraising, balancing the institutional budget, allocating resources, pursuing and maintaining accreditation, recruiting students, and recruiting and managing faculty are among the challenges cited in AACSB’s most recent surveys of business school senior administrators.

But the to-do lists for academic administrators in 2024 have gotten longer than ever. Deans also must promote societal impact, adapt to artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies, and navigate an increasingly precarious political landscape, all while trying to support their own well-being and work-life balance.

“The expectations and responsibilities of business school deans are changing to match the dynamic nature of modern higher education,” AACSB shares in an overview of the survey results mentioned above. More broadly, deans “must satisfy the needs of various stakeholders, including students, donors, parents, faculty, government, and political entities, while also dealing with increased scrutiny about the value of higher education.”

What strategies have some deans and other academic leaders designed to navigate their roles more effectively? Below, we have gathered articles from our archives that answer 11 of the most pressing questions on the minds of deans today.

How can we keep business schools viable in an increasingly competitive market? In “New Strategies for an Uncertain Future,” Hanumantha Rao Unnava of the University of California–Davis and Sarah Nutter of the University of Oregon discuss how deans might address increased competition in the educational marketplace by having their schools lean more into online, stackable, and lifelong learning opportunities.

How can our schools achieve greater diversity? Richard Phillips shares how Georgia State University’s J. Mack Robinson College of Business uses predictive analytics to identify and support students at risk of dropping out in “So, You Want To Address Inequities?

How can we afford more mission-based initiatives, particularly those related to societal impact? In “Funding Sustainability,” Giselle Weybrecht presents 13 innovative financial models—from applying for impact grants to selling sustainability bonds—that leaders have adopted to drive their institutions’ sustainable ambitions. Deans interested in achieving broader flexibility in how they finance societal impact initiatives should read “Leveraging Legal Frameworks for the Greater Good” by Ulrich Hommel of EBS University of Business and Law and Julie Perrin-Halot of Grenoble École de Management. Finally, deans who want to tap external funding for research might want to read “Time for More Grant-Seeking in Business Schools?” by Rich Klimoski and Benjamen Kessler of George Mason University.

How can we align our efforts to achieve societal impact with accreditation standards? Here, deans can find guidance in “Five Steps for Achieving Impact,” inspired by a February 2023 AACSB white paper. These steps range from deciding on an area of focus to creating a plan to identify and track progress toward goals. To track their progress, administrators might want to use a Societal Impact Canvas (based on the well-known Business Model Canvas), as Samantha Steidle and Dale Henderson of Radford University describe in “Operationalizing Societal Impact.”

What can we do to ensure that our accreditation visits go smoothly? Ira Weiss of North Carolina State University shares advice inspired by his experience as a peer review team volunteer in “Are You Prepared for Your Accreditation Visit?” Karen Tarnoff discusses how schools can design better assurance of learning strategies in “How to Make Sure an AoL System Is Working.”

How should we manage disruptive technology? In “Implementing AI Technology in Business Education,” Robert Brunner outlines how faculty at the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign are integrating artificial intelligence into their classrooms. Those interested in blockchain can take a look at “How Should We Teach Blockchain?” in which Felix Bekemeier and the late Philipp Sandner offer their advice on incorporating topics related to decentralized networks into curricular initiatives.

How can we leverage data more effectively to drive our strategic planning? Rena Keath and Melissa Beaven, both from the University of Kentucky, describe how the Gatton College of Business and Economics created its College Enhancement Unit to formalize its data collection in “A Dynamic Strategic Plan Doubles Down on Data.” By gathering its reporting data related to finances, admissions, enrollments, course capacities, and degree conferral all in one place, administrators can more easily track and more quickly respond to historical trends.  

How can we engage more donors in our mission? Fundraising is a top priority for many deans. To maintain the flow of money into initiatives, deans should keep donors involved in school activities on an ongoing basis, stresses Gert-Jan de Vreede of the University of Florida’s Muma College of Business. Administrators can read how his school achieves this objective in “Donor Engagement During Difficult Times.”

What steps can we take to prepare our institutions for upheaval? In “Schooling Schools for Shocks,” Lee Miles of Bournemouth University Business School advises administrators to first identify and track likely hazards using a “risk register,” as well as to form incident response teams that can effectively and quickly respond to disasters in progress. Deans also have much to learn from their colleagues who have led schools, as well as entire communities, through real-life catastrophes—from the extreme weather events described in “Societal Impact: Our Response to Natural Disasters” to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the subject of “Education in a Country at War.”

How can we ensure that our schools stay relevant? Some deans are answering this question by strengthening the ties their schools have to organizations throughout their regions. Read more about how Old Dominion University’s Strome College worked with regional leaders post-pandemic in “Rebuilding a Region After COVID,” how the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business has revitalized its executive education offerings in “Doing Executive Education Well in Rural Markets,” and how Georgia State University is supporting Georgia’s need for fintech talent in “Meeting the Regional Need for Fintech Professionals.”

How can we make our schools more resilient in a dynamic future? Create collaborative networks and ecosystems in which schools share data, crowdsource content, and provide students with options to become “accumulators” of knowledge from multiple institutions. That’s the guidance provided by Martin Boehm, Ulrich Hommel, and Benjamin Stévenin in “Future-Proofing the Business School.” Similarly, Isabelle Bajeux-Besnainou of Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business encourages academic leaders to create more resilient institutions by becoming more data-driven and collaborative in “Business Schools Are the Key to an Intelligent Future.”

It’s true that a business school dean’s work is never done, especially in today’s rapidly changing higher education environment. But fortunately, academic leaders have a panoply of best practices at their disposal to help their schools—and themselves—thrive.

Are there leadership challenges that you would like to see explored in future AACSB Insights articles? If so, let us know at [email protected] or continue the discussion by posting your ideas on the AACSB Exchange and tagging us in your comments.

Tricia Bisoux
Editor, AACSB Insights
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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