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Candidate talks held for new dean of business school

Candidates for new Dean of Business School. Rachel Croson (Left) and Deborah Merrill-Sands.

Mills College hosted lectures by the final two candidates for the dean of the business school last week. New leadership will oversee the program for the first time since current dean Nancy Thornborrow assumed the position in 2005.

The College chose the topic of “the Education of Women in Business in the New Century” for the two women to speak on March 10 and 11. The first candidate was Rachel Croson, a professor and director of the Negotiations Center at the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas.

“We need to give women the tools to succeed and, once they succeed, we need to give them the tools to change the system, the tools to break the glass ceiling,” Croson said during her 15-minute speech, which was followed by a 45-minute question and answer session with students and faculty. “We need to instill in them the aspiration that, once women get into the board room, they need to change the system.”

Croson earned her Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University and is an accomplished academic who has published hundreds of articles, including a piece on female economics faculty entitled “Scaling the Wall: Helping Female Faculty in Economics Achieve Tenure.” Research Papers in Economics named her one of the top five percent of women in economics in February. She said her research interests include experimental economics, judgment and decision-making and bargaining and negotiation.

When asked what attracted her to Mills and the Lorry I. Lokey Graduate School of Business, she reflected on her publishing career and the importance of applying the concept to her practice.

“I looked at my vita and I wondered, ‘What is the value of a 101st paper?’ The definition of gender in business is an issue and I have studied that question. I wanted the opportunity to put that into practice instead of being published and shelved,” she said.

The second candidate was Dean Deborah Merrill-Sands of the Simmons College School of Management in Boston, Mass. Merrill-Sands has been dean of the school since 2004. She received her M.A. and Ph.D. in applied anthropology from Cornell University and received a B.A. from Hampshire College.

“When I read about Mills as a whole, I saw a lot of alignment there in women’s education,” she said in her Mar. 11 lecture. “Women are the engine of growth in the entrepreneurial sector. A school like this, especially in this stage of its development, has to be nimble.”

Originally Simmons’ associate dean, Sands funded the first endowed chair in Women and Leadership and organized new Fortune 500 companies as Executive Education clients. She is also the co-founder and former co-director of the Center for Gender in Organizations.

“They both did a good job. We are lucky in that we have a hard decision to make,” said Provost and Dean of Faculty Sandra Greer, the chair of the MBA dean search committee. “Intelligence, integrity and experience are qualities in a potential MBA candidate. We need a clear understanding of Mills and ways our business school fits in the liberal arts context.”

After those present asked questions, they filled out a survey assessing each candidate’s leadership, commitment to academic excellence and diversity. Both candidates were chosen after the search committee narrowed down a list of 25 candidates compiled by the Isaacson, Miller, an executive search firm.

The candidates’ identities were kept secret from everyone not on the search committee up until days before the women arrived on campus. Greer said this was to protect their privacy, especially with respect to their current employers.

Economics Professor Roger Sparks, a member of the committee, said his colleagues wished they had more time to review each candidate’s credentials. Several students reported attending the job talks not even knowing either candidate’s name.

Greer will likely announce the new dean in the coming weeks after reviewing the surveys and receiving input from both the search committee, the Board of Trustees and President Janet Holmgren.

Students who attended the lecture had mixed reactions about which candidate would be best for the position. Alumna of the MBA Program Chavon Rosenthal was interested in what Merrill-Sands would bring as the dean to the school.

“She seemed to have the most knowledge in where business is going. Her experience beforehand is important and actually produced results,” Rosenthal said. “[Croson] was more academic, and her answers weren’t specific.”

Other students, like MBA student Paula Larsen-Moore, enjoyed Croson’s lecture and agreed with the points she raised.

“I think she was great in having a vision in what I would want to do in the next five years,” she said after Croson’s session. “I think her strong academic background will attract more students and faculty.”