Gene Anderson has spent decades leading business schools. Now he’s tasked with leading Whitman.
Paul Schlesinger | Asst. Photo Editor
Gene Anderson, the new dean of Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management, began open water swimming when he was a doctoral student at the University of Chicago in the 1980s.
He only swam casually at first, because his first summer at the university was hot. A spot near the school, which jutted out into Lake Michigan, made a good starting place for his swims.
He eventually discovered a group of people that would swim across the bay and back, every day. One of them, he said, set records swimming across the English Channel.
Anderson began swimming with the group each summer.
One day last August, Michael Haynie, SU’s vice chancellor for strategic initiatives and innovation, was relaxing on a dock at the edge of a lake in the Adirondacks while on a strategic retreat with other university leaders.
Anderson, Haynie said, walked out onto the dock, put on a swimming cap and dove into the lake. He swam the length of the lake — and back.
“I was a little worried I might have to chair another dean search when he disappeared out of view,” Haynie said.
“It beats the heck out of swimming in a pool.”
Eugene “Gene” Anderson formally began his tenure as dean of the Whitman School on July 1.
For most of the academic year prior to Anderson’s appointment, the Whitman School had been without a permanent dean.
Kenneth Kavajecz, Whitman’s previous dean, was arrested in September 2016 after he allegedly agreed to pay an undercover police officer who was posing as a prostitute.
A Whitman marketing professor was named interim dean in October, but a committee of SU faculty, trustees, students and other deans was soon formed to seek out Kavajecz’s replacement.
Haynie, who chaired the search committee, said Whitman was moving with “forward momentum” in terms of the student experience and educational opportunities when the committee was formed. They weren’t looking for a dean with a specific set of qualifications, he added.
“What we were really looking for and focused on was identifying a future dean that was in a position to build from and continue that very positive momentum,” he said.
Though the candidate pool was diverse, Haynie said Anderson was uniquely positioned for the job, not only because Anderson had previous experience as a business school dean, but because his future vision aligned with that of the Whitman School’s.
Many of Anderson’s past and present colleagues interviewed by The Daily Orange said he has a shrewd sense of the future of business education.
Anuj Mehrotra, currently a senior vice dean at the University of Miami’s School of Business Administration — where Anderson served as dean from 2011 to 2016, said Anderson understood the business and education world “extremely” well.
“He actually had foresight to see that the business education world is changing,” Mehrotra said.
Anderson spoke about how business students will need to learn how to work alongside technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.
But Anderson didn’t talk just about changes to business school curriculums. The ways students interact with their education is also evolving.
“In the digital environment, a lot of the fundamentals of business are all going to be out there, freely available online,” he said. “Trying to figure out how you play in that environment is a real interesting challenge.”
If the university is to continue to function as a strong residential experience, learning has to be enriched, he said. Basic business information is available online, so the school will have to make sure it’s offering value-added experiences, Anderson said.
Those programs may include experiential learning opportunities and integrated curriculums — the kinds of things you can’t get on the internet, Anderson said.
Anderson compared college campuses to a live performance, while online learning was like buying an album on iTunes. Universities, like musicians, need to convince people to pay for the “live performance.”
He paused, then took the analogy further.
“If you’re going to be a premium educational institution, you’re going to want to bring the students up on stage with you,” he added.
Craig Boise, dean of SU’s College of Law and a member of the Whitman dean search committee, said he was struck when Anderson asked in interviews about SU’s efforts to promote diversity on campus.
About 11 years ago, one of Anderson’s largest crises occurred when efforts to promote diversity at the University of Michigan were stymied.
In 2006, while Anderson was at UM’s Ross School of Business, Michigan voters passed a ballot initiative called Proposal 2. The initiative, also known as the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, outlawed publically-funded universities from using race, gender or religion as a factor in admissions.
This meant affirmative action policies — intended to promote diversity — were made illegal in the state of Michigan.
Diversity was part of the “DNA” of the school, Anderson said, and the initiative’s passage was difficult for the campus community. The first thing Anderson said he and other university leaders did was bring together students, faculty, staff and alumni to talk about how to navigate and work through the crisis.
“Getting the right people at the table was important,” he said.
Anderson said bringing people together and engaging them in working groups helped UM’s culture and climate continue to be as welcoming as possible.
Paul Schlesinger | Asst. Photo Editor
In interviews with The Daily Orange, many of Anderson’s colleagues noted his abilities to listen to others.
“I’ve had the opportunity to have dinner with him on a couple of occasions, and we’ve spoken frequently,” Boise said. “He’s very thoughtful.”
While at the University of Miami, Mehrotra said Anderson would hold “office hours” in the school’s courtyard and make himself available to students who wanted to speak with him.
From those informal meetings, he said Anderson would get an idea of how students were thinking.
Anderson’s listening efforts didn’t stop when he moved to SU.
This summer, after his appointment as dean of the Whitman School, Anderson spent a few weeks on the road meeting SU alumni in cities such as Washington, D.C. and New York City. He said he wanted to know why alumni were attracted to the university and what their experience was like when they were at school.
“It’s important to listen, especially being a new person on campus,” Anderson said. “At any organization, you don’t want to walk in and start saying ‘we should do this, we should do that.’
You really need to learn about the context and learn about the people and about the culture.”
When describing the Whitman School offerings that Anderson thought were compelling and innovative — such as the undergraduate program’s integrated core and IMPRESS program — he punctuated his thoughts by mentioning his excitement to talk to students about Whitman’s programs.
“It was evident to me, during the interview process, that (Anderson) cares very deeply about the students and the student experience,” Boise said.
In November 2016, the Whitman School received a $1.75 million grant from the Charles Koch Foundation to establish the Institute for an Entrepreneurial Society. The receipt of the grant raised academic freedom concerns among faculty and students at SU.
The S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications also received a grant from the Koch Foundation in February.
The Koch brothers, outspoken supporters of free market capitalism, have in the past used university grants with strings attached to advance research consistent with their political and economic ideas.
SU has not made the terms of the Whitman grant public.
SU’s Student Association in April passed a bill calling on SU administrators to denounce the grant until the terms of the contract are released. In an April University Senate meeting, USen members clashed over the controversial grant’s vetting process.
Multiple university officials, including Haynie and Vice Chancellor and Provost Michele Wheatly, have said the grant does not interfere with academic freedom.
Anderson said he understood there was controversy surrounding the receipt of the gift, but he supported the university officials that vetted the grant.
“I don’t think the university would have accepted anything that would infringe on their academic freedom,” Anderson said.
He said he has “tremendous” confidence in the provost and the people that vetted the grant. To his understanding, he said, the grant went through the same processes and prudence that any other grant would have gone through.
But, Anderson said, “we should always be vigilant about academic freedom.”
Even as freshmen began moving into SU dorms at the end of August, boxes in the Whitman dean’s office were still unopened.
Anderson’s move to Syracuse was quick because the dean search wrapped up late, he said. He moved to New York in June, and spent some of the summer living at the Sheraton Syracuse University Hotel and Conference Center.
After five years in Miami, Anderson said he was ready for the winter weather.
“I miss the change of seasons,” he said. He lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for decades — but the city doesn’t get nearly the amount of snow Syracuse does.
“I’m itching to see the snow.”
Published on August 30, 2017 at 9:26 pm