Deans Work To Overcome 'Future Fatigue'

Business education is at a crossroads, and individual business schools can choose to make any number of changes to their programs to stay relevant to students, employers, and society. 

If the tenor of the second day of AACSB’s Deans Conference is any indication, business education is at a crossroads, and individual business schools can choose to make any number of changes to their programs to stay relevant to students, employers, and society. The only thing they can't do and still be thriving in 10 years is stay the same. That was the message of many of the afternoon sessions where deans discussed what the future of faculty, leadership, learning, and business models could—and should—look like for their schools.

Rashmi Prasad, dean of the College of Business and Public Policy at the University of Alaska in Anchorage called the mood in the room at the "Future Business Models" session "somber," even as deans came together to brainstorm ways they could sustain their schools financially. Many deans are feeling "a fatigue about the future," he said. "We're really future-stressed. We're at a stalemate where we're not sure what to do next."

One way deans can overcome their "future fatigue," Prasad stressed, is to hire creative and forward-thinking faculty and tap into their ideas and enthusiasm. Business schools that have a high percentage of faculty willing to start new programs and experiment with new models will be better positioned to move into fresh directions, he said. He also noted that many conversations he heard during the day conflated "old" with "uncreative," but he stressed that's not always the case. He points to a 60-year-old on his own faculty, who is among the most creative self-starters he knows. "It's my job as dean to help faculty like him do what they want to do next."

Daniel Petree of the School of Business and Economics at the College of Brockport, State University of New York, has been attending the Deans Conference for many years. On Monday, he also noted that its atmosphere has been steadily changing as the industry—and the deans themselves—are changing. "I've been a dean forever, and this forum has grown so much, it's fundamentally different. It's grown more diverse, relatively speaking," he says. That diversity among deans is a positive trend, especially as it becomes clear that the industry is in need of fresh ideas and perspectives.

He mentioned Andrew McAfee's plenary presentation earlier in the day, in which McAfee proposed the idea that business schools shouldn't spend so much time teaching ethics and leadership. That opinion may have been counter to what many deans believe, but Petree thinks deans need to hear—and appreciate—ideas that are different from their own, especially if they’re going to position themselves to respond well to the changes ahead.

"I think it's important that we remember that everyone has a point of view," he said. "It was helpful just to hear McAfee's ideas and think about them. It doesn't mean you have to agree."