For most young researchers, administration is a word filled with horror. Why would anyone want to be an academic administrator when you could spend your days exploring the wonder of operations research? And many days, I (a not so young researcher) agree with them. There is almost nothing better than spending time thinking, writing code, teaching, and doing all the wonderful things that make up the academic life. However, after a decade or two, for some there comes a wish to have a broader effect. Will yet one more paper on a better cutting plane or another game-theoretic analysis of a supply chain really affect very much? Or perhaps after sitting through yet another unproductive, useless meeting, the thought comes “I can do better than these jackasses!”. And the administrative path begins.
Some of the people I admire most in our field have done significant academic administration. For instance, Patrick Harker was the editor of Operations Research when he was picked to be Dean of Wharton, one of the most important business school deanships around. He is now President of the University of Delaware.
I think operations research is actually pretty good training for administration. In OR, you learn to make decisions based on facts and data, rather than biases and preconceptions. Within the business school, we often get to know many of the faculty as our methods can be used broadly (and are often considered “honest brokers” in conflicts between the bigger areas of finance and marketing).
This trend has grown strong enough that there is even a “Dean’s Meeting” at INFORMS. From the excellent conference daily news:
Operations research trains a professional to become a better thinker, problem solver, and educator. As more and more members of INFORMS are discovering, the field also trains you to become a better university administrator.
Dozens of operations researchers across the country are becoming deans and provosts – and even presidents – of universities large and small, in the U.S. and throughout the world. Some examples: Prof. Arjang Assad, formerly of the Robert H. Smith School at the University of Maryland just became the dean of the University of Buffalo School of Management. Also this year, James Bean, the former president of INFORMS, became Senior Vice President and Provost of the University of Oregon.
I hadn’t realized that Jim Bean had moved up to Provost at Oregon. Congratulations Jim!