Co-deans at Carlson split job for now

A professor and a business executive serve until the new dean arrives in July.

Bryce Haugen

At most business schools, the buck stops at a single office door. But at the Carlson School of Management, two full-time co-deans split responsibilities.

Michael Houston, a longtime Carlson School professor, and Jim Campbell, former Wells Fargo executive vice president, assumed their roles in February, a month after Dean Larry Benveniste left the post for a similar job at Emory University.

Campbell, a member and past chairman of the Carlson School’s Board of Overseers, acts as the school’s main connection to the business world, while Houston, an expert in international marketing, deals with day-to-day operations. They will serve until July, when Alison Davis-Blake, senior associate dean at the University of Texas’ business school, takes over.

“It seemed to be the perfect match to have two deans specializing in their expertise and strengths,” said Provost Tom Sullivan, who, after consulting with Carlson School faculty members last winter, appointed the co-deans.

The arrangement is unique among business schools, Sullivan said, but he decided “the best model was to have a strong leader on the inside (Houston) and someone who could handle the complex external relations on the outside (Campbell).”

After graduating from the University of Illinois, Houston taught at Texas A&M University and University of Wisconsin-Madison before coming to the University of Minnesota in 1986. Since then, he’s held a variety of Carlson School positions, serving as both research and faculty associate dean and associate dean of international programs ” a title he holds to this day.

As co-dean, Houston said, he focuses on advancing initiatives proposed by Benveniste, such as enhancing Carlson School’s academic visibility and securing funding for a new undergraduate building.

“But overriding all that is a goal to really make this a comfortable place for a new dean to come in and execute her ideas,” he said in his spacious fourth-floor office overlooking the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

Houston said that since he’s spent his career in the lecture halls of academia, sharing duties with Campbell helps the Carlson School reach out to the business community.

Campbell is a 1964 University graduate who, for 38 years, worked his way up the ranks at Wells Fargo and Norwest Bank.

“Jim Campbell is very well known,” he said. “We’ve been able to continue (building connections) and improve them because of him.”

Down an art-filled hall from Houston, in a smaller office, Campbell explained his unique role Monday before going downtown for a meeting.

Campbell, who played in the University Marching Band at the 1962 Rose Bowl, said the business-executive world required many of the same skills as his current position.

“I really am doing a lot of the same things, but with a Carlson hat, not a Wells Fargo hat,” he said.

For a few days each month, Davis-Blake comes to the University, meeting with faculty and staff members, preparing to take over the helm.

The co-deans have been “very generous with their time,” Davis-Blake said, helping her transition to the University and including her in key decisions.

So far, the co-dean arrangement has worked well, said operations and management science professor John Anderson, Houston’s colleague since the mid-’80s.

“I think they really complement each other,” he said. “They’re doing a great job.”

Sullivan said he “could not be happier with the stewardship of Mike and Jim.”

International program administrative assistant Linda Ganyaw, who has worked with Houston for seven years, said she likes the co-dean concept, but would like to see more focus on improving internal Carlson School relationships.

“It seems like there could be more commingling of faculty and staff,” she said.

A majority of Carlson School students interviewed said they hadn’t heard of Houston or Campbell, but supply-side management junior Devin Baker said that doesn’t matter. What counts, he said, is that the school’s prestige continues to grow.

“As long as they listen to student input,” he said.

Administrators never considered either co-dean a candidate for the permanent position ” something both knew from the start ” to avoid potential or perceived conflict, Sullivan said.

When Davis-Blake arrives next year, Houston said, he will return full time to his associate deanship.

Campbell said he’ll continue to spend time with various nonprofit organizations and corporate boards. He’ll also visit his Florida home, which he “hasn’t seen since March.”