Acting dean charged with calming the waters at FIU’s business school

In a class about personal selling, Professor Rafael Soltero lectures aspiring business students at FIU. The business school has gone through some turmoil but now has an new interim dean.
In a class about personal selling, Professor Rafael Soltero lectures aspiring business students at FIU. The business school has gone through some turmoil but now has an new interim dean. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

With its international programs and array of specialty degrees, Florida International University’s College of Business has steadily gained ground on assorted college ranking lists.

But over the last few years, pride over the college’s rising academic status has often been overshadowed by internal strife: faculty leaders resigned or were removed from programs, a lost federal grant closed a center that supported study-abroad programs, and there are on-going debates over whether undergraduate enrollment and programs are being beefed up at the expense of more prestigious — and lucrative — graduate programs.

Finally, there was a lightning rod for faculty criticism: A highly paid and highly unpopular dean, David Klock, who resigned in May.

Charged with calming the waters at one of FIU’s most important schools: newly appointed acting dean Jose Aldrich, an administrator with impressive credentials in the business world and Latin America but who until 20 months ago had no academic or research experience.

Although Aldrich’s appointment is temporary — at least for now — its duration will make him more than a caretaker. FIU says it’s unlikely to select a new dean before fall 2016.

“Even though his title is acting dean, he has full authority to enact changes and move the college forward,” said Provost Kenneth Furton, FIU’s chief academic officer. “That gives him time … to get the college in a position for bringing in a leader. But also he may decide to be a candidate.”

Aldrich, 62, arrived at FIU in November 2013 from the Miami office of KPMG, one of the Big Four accounting and professional services firms. He worked there for 35 years, most recently as managing partner in charge of the firm’s tax practice in Latin America. A long-time Miami resident with stints for KPMG in New York and Venezuela, he is both an attorney and certified public accountant.

He found working as Klock’s vice dean similar in many ways to his experience as a managing partner at KPMG — with running a school not unlike running any other business.

“The university is in the business of educating students. It’s a service that we’re rendering,’’ he said. “You take anything that you do and you figure out what are the important aspects, what makes the business run.”

Aldrich got his degrees at the University of Miami, but he also had ties to FIU. While at KPMG, he was a member of the FIU Foundation and the College of Business Dean’s Council.

When he retired from KPMG — the firm’s mandatory retirement age for partners is 60 — his idea was to be an adjunct professor, he said. But then the position of vice-dean came open and he applied for that as well. Since then, he has been teaching undergraduate tax classes and as vice-dean, has been responsible for finance and technology.

“I find teaching extremely rewarding, that’s what I enjoy the most and that’s what we’re here for,” Aldrich said. But as acting dean, he said, he probably won’t teach this coming year.

Aldrich said he hasn’t decided whether he will seek the job permanently.

One of the first issues the search committee will take up — and that will affect Aldrich — will be the qualifications of the next dean. Will the committee call for someone with a strong academic or research background? Or will it leave the door open — as a growing number of colleges do these days — for someone who has extensive professional experience and will surround himself or herself with advisors who have scholarly credentials?

Aldrich has strong local and Latin American business connections that Klock, who had previously been dean of the School of Business at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, lacked.

Aldrich, of course, recognizes some important differences between a corporation, where executives answer to a board of a directors, and a major university.

“Here, the faculty really drives it,” he said

It was faculty members whose complaints prompted the university to commission a survey that confirmedlow morale and distrust of Klock dean and led to his resignation.

Now, Aldrich will need support from those same faculty members.

The College of Business is the largest of FIU’s professional schools, with about 6,000 undergraduate and 2,000 graduate students. It has more specialty degrees and programs than many business schools, offering bachelor’s degrees in accounting and business administration, and a variety of master’s degrees in such areas as real estate, health care, human resources management and international business.

The college also has dual-degree international-business programs with schools in 27 countries where graduate students attend classes at FIU and a school abroad and get degrees from both.

Some of those programs were singled out for praise by the team from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business that recommended in 2013 that FIU’s five-year accreditation be extended.

Although FIU’s rankings don’t put it among the cream of business schools, some individual programs have gotten high numbers in several annual college rankings: U.S. News and World Report ranked it eighth in undergraduate international business programs this year, No. 23 in graduate international business programs and No. 27 in online graduate business programs last year. Bloomberg Businessweek’s most recent rankings listed its MBA programs at No. 56. Modern Healthcare ranked FIU No. 5 for healthcare MBAs.

Its graduate programs also are a strong source of revenue for the school because of state rules that allow FIU to charge higher tuitition rates. A foreign or out-of-state grad student, for instance, pays $23,766 — almost quadruple an in-state undergrad. The graduate programs allowed the College of Business to build up a budget surplus.

But some key changes in the undergraduate program — pushing students to declare majors earlier, lowering the grade point average required to take upper-division classes — forced the school to hire more faculty, which ate up that surplus. Klock also looked for money-saving “efficiencies” in the grad school, Furton said. The resulting shake-ups were partly responsible for the uproar among faculty.

“That’s one of the things Dean Aldrich is charged with,” Furton said, “to get into these programs, to look at the resources for the graduate programs and make sure that they are properly resourced.”

As far as academic programs, Aldrich says he takes particular interest in Latin America — where many of the dual-degree partnerships are — and the international business program. He wants partnerships with more schools abroad. A number of other academic initiatives are moving forward as the changing business world creates new demands, he said, including classes in cybersecurity and data analytics.

That echoes the views of some faculty members. International programs “have gone on the back burner. I want to see them moved forward again,” said Mary Ann Von Glinow, a professor in the department of management & international business and for 20 years, director of FIU’s Center for International Business Education and Research, which lost its federal funding this year.

Von Glinow said the college needs to return to its emphasis on its international and healthcare programs, and to put resources back into graduate programs.

Professor David Ralston saidFIU needs a business dean who has a “fall on his/her sword commitment to internationalizing the [college]. FIU’s location provides it with a pronounced competitive advantage in the international area over a great number of other universities. Accordingly, we need a leader who knows how to make the most of this favorable situation.”

Ralston, a professor in the Department of Management & International Business, also argued that the next dean needs to have a track record as a research scholar in order to elevate the college as a research-oriented school.

“We talk about ourselves as being a research institution, when in fact this is not the case,’’ he said. “The culture that has been institutionalized by the prior deans has been that of a teaching school culture, not a research institution culture,” he said.

Tony Argiz, an FIU grad and CEO of the accounting firm Morrison, Brown, Argiz & Farra, has strong ties with his alma mater. His firm has donated several hundred thousand dollars for a professorship, scholarships and a classroom, and he hires between eight and twenty FIU business students a year.

Agriz, who is also immediate past chairman of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, believes FIU already has a strong candidate for dean in Aldrich.

“He has tremendous moral character. He’s a caring guy, he has a lot to offer students. He has an amazing intellectual ability. So when I heard that they had selected him as interim dean, I told Dr. Rosenberg [Mark Rosenberg, president of FIU] I wished they had just hired him as permanent dean.”

What’s next?

The search for a new dean will begin when the faculty — who make up most of the membership of a search committee — returns to campus for the fall semester, said Kenneth G. Furton, FIU’s provost.

An outside firm probably will be hired to conduct the initial search, based on the qualifications that the committee recommends.

Typically, the committee would narrow down the list of candidates to be interviewed. Members of the business community may also sit on the committee or particulate in the interviews. Then Furton will make a recommendation to FIU President Mark Rosenberg, who will make the decision.

It is a long process, and Furton said he does not expect a new dean to be in place before the start of the fall 2016 semester.

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