New CSOM dean getting used to life back at the U

Vincent Staupe

Alison Davis-Blake’s first job in high school was writing computer programs in the basement of Blegen Hall. Decades later, she’s working a few buildings away.

The new dean of the Carlson School of Management said she had no idea she would eventually return. But the combined ambition of the school and the University drew her back.

“I wanted to be a part of a great university,” said Davis-Blake, a Twin Cities native who assumed her new role in July, though she was appointed in 2005.

Previously, she was the senior associate dean at the University of Texas’ business school and spent most of the past year finishing up there while getting acquainted with the Carlson School.

Bringing Davis-Blake, 46, back north took some coaxing; she declined her first invitation to interview for the deanship.

“I just declined most of the invitations that came to me,” Davis-Blake said, noting that refusing the job had little to do with the Carlson School and everything to do with timing.

The second time the faculty committee approached her with a “robust set of arguments” promoting the school, Davis-Blake said she had given more thought to the position and was already in town for the retirement party for her father, Gordon Davis, who taught management information systems at the Carlson School for 44 years.

“Timing in life is everything and I was persuaded there was a really good story here and that it was something I wanted to be a part of,” she said.

Part of the story – the ongoing construction of an undergraduate facility – especially drew Davis-Blake to the job, she said.

“(Hanson Hall) is going to be the premier facility in the world that is really dedicated to undergraduate business education,” Davis-Blake said, though she stressed the project won’t be effective unless it’s coupled with a top-notch curriculum and student services.

The expansion of the undergraduate program has raised issues from some students who feel the perceived prestige of the school will suffer with the additional students.

Davis-Blake said an increased applicant pool will result in the acceptance of more qualified students.

“We are very committed to scaling the experience so that it is of a higher quality,” she said.

Most faculty interviewed said Davis-Blake has done a good job so far with her open and honest management style.

Andrew Winton, head of the finance department, said Davis-Blake has already confronted some faculty concerns, including whether she would support faculty research.

“She’s also done a good job of telling us what challenges we face,” Winton said.

One issue Davis-Blake said she’d need to address is that a third of the faculty is expected to retire within the next five years and trying to find replacements could prove challenging.

“The faculty labor market is very tight,” she said. “You have to be extremely persistent and competitive (to find good candidates).”

Davis-Blake said she will also work to improve the Carlson School’s relations with other colleges within the University.

“Business schools have so many different constituents, sometimes we don’t attend to the great partners that we have across campus as much as we could,” she said.

Students in general said they have not noticed any changes since the dean arrived.

Finance senior Brian Lebens attended a speech where Davis-Blake spoke about leadership myths.

“She seemed really great,” he said, adding that he thinks she seems aptly qualified for the position.

“She has some great experiences,” Lebens said.

While others may know precisely what their careers will be out of high school, Davis-Blake said each step in her career seemed to take a different direction.

“I had never thought that I would be a department chair, let alone dean,” she said. “But, you know, each step has been logical and progressive.”