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UpFront: Vote B-School Deans for President!

By John Fernandes

Those who have visited AACSB's World Headquarters in Tampa, Florida, agree that it sits in a picturesque location on the banks of the Hillsborough River on tiny Harbour Island. Our north-side offices overlook Seddon Cove; and just beyond, is the Tampa Convention Center, home of the 2012 U.S. Republican Party National Convention. The republicans will choose their nominee for president of the United States right under AACSB's nose during the last week of August. Already, many are worried about what might happen to disrupt traffic flow in downtown Tampa. Many advise, just leave town. It is your best option. It will certainly be an exciting time for Tampa Bay.

The republican presidential nominee and president Obama face off in November for the right to tackle seemingly untenable challenges for the United States and most of the world. Good luck to the winner. Now back to our world. Maybe the plight of global higher education is not as great as the crumbling of previously prosperous economies and the resource vacuum in the developing world. But, we have real challenges in maintaining high-quality academic standards. From funding to faculty, higher education is being squeezed tightly as governments battle to balance their budgets. Great leadership is needed now more than ever. Often, the right leaders for today's times aren't even in the running.

During AACSB's 2012 Deans' Conference in New Orleans, Tulane president and former AACSB president and Case Western dean, Scott Cowen, addressed the assembly on higher education's challenges. Now, some of you may not remember Scott's AACSB tenure, but I'll bet you remember seeing him being interviewed on global news broadcasts in the aftermath of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina. In the days following the storm, New Orleans was devastated by floods and people were stranded in the Superdome and in many parts of the submerged city. What was common to nearly all media accounts was that there was an absence of leadership from Pontchartrain Boulevard to Pennsylvania Avenue. Would-be leaders behaved like bickering school children and others simply scurried from the city and their obligations. I agree that many, many heroes came through for New Orleans in those dark days; yet, no one faced the world with a steadier voice and more conviction to recover than Tulane's president and our man on the ground, Scott Cowen. I recall thinking that Scott's leadership reminded me of President Harry Truman's adage, "the buck stops here." President Cowen insisted New Orleans would come back and Tulane University would be one of America's strongest institutions of higher education once more.

Now, just seven years later, Tulane University has not only recovered from Katrina, but it has become an even better university. President Cowen's leadership and financial savvy have transformed the "Green Wave" to a higher education model that thrives in the 21st century's sea of budget cuts. Tulane has set the tone for New Orleans' re-emergence as a unique destination. The city is on its way to being one of the leading, most progressive cities in the world. Certainly the credit for New Orleans' comeback goes to many; but today, I am talking about our man, Scott Cowen. Way to go, Mr. President.

I believe that there are other Scott Cowens in our midst. These are seasoned business school deans who know how to build a strategic plan that is financially viable and achieves the mission. Isn't that the core mantra of AACSB Accreditation? Yet, universities are mostly devoid of leaders who have served as business school deans. The higher education model of today demands accountability, responsible financial strategies, and effective risk management. Who better to deal with the massive cuts in university subsidies than the experienced business school dean?

Higher education needs you, business school dean. When university-wide leadership opportunities arise, "throw your hat into the ring." Just maybe, you are the right person with the right skill set at the right time. Just maybe, university presidential search committees are ready to make the right choices. And just maybe, another Scott Cowen saves another university from the financial abyss. Maybe business school deans will form the "Green Wave" of resurgence in higher education worldwide.

See you in San Diego, California, USA at ICAM 2012.


John Fernandes
President and CEO
AACSB International