San Francisco Advantage

Interview with the Interim Dean

by Gene Thomas

Mike Webber Interim Dean
What would you say the USF School of Management truly stands for?
I want the school to have a reputation for not just excellence but balanced excellence, one that emphasizes academics -- rigor and scholarship, but also good teaching and, curia personalis, the care of the whole person.

What would be the evidence of your success in your new position as Interim Dean? How would you like to be judged?
I think I will have considered my tenure as Interim Dean successful if, first of all, we achieve reaccreditation by the AACSB. That is obviously crucial to the future of the school and its operations.

I would also like to leave behind strong foundations -- organizational, institutional, academic foundations — that my successor, whoever she or he might be, can build upon to take the school to the next level.

I also think that I will consider my tenure to be successful if I have contributed to moving the morale of the institution forward.

Personally, when I walk through the campus of USF I feel like a stranger in paradise.

I was the first one in my family to go to college, and so for me to work at a university is an enormous privilege.

Every day I come to work, I recognize how lucky I am to be working in a job that I enjoy. And I would like for everyone else who works in the School of Management to feel that joy about coming to work.

If people feel a bounce in their step about coming to work at the School of Management, that’s a measure of success for me, that people feel that they’re working towards a shared mission, that their role in achieving that mission is valued, and that we are being successful in inculcating our students with a sense of values, as they learn about the technical elements of doing business in the 21st Century.

Mike Webber, our new, interim Dean conducts his first meeting with the School of Management staff.

Interim Dean conducts meeting with the School of Management staff
Much of what you’ve said relates to the four priorities that the Provost has spoken of. Would you explain and elaborate on those four priorities?
There are four main priorities I have for the next year. The first one is the reaccreditation of the School of Management with AACSB. I’m hopeful that we will finish our analysis and data collection by mid-October to submit a report to AACSB by January the 12th of 2012.

Reaccreditation is very important to us, in terms of our reputation, our standing in the field in terms of being able to attract good faculty and students. So reaccreditation is a central priority.

The second priority is to increase the quality of our educational programs. Our goal is continuous improvement.

The third priority is the move of some of our programs into downtown San Francisco. USF is moving towards what we call a distributed campus. We are looking to have a number of sites in the City of San Francisco where we can have both programs and administrative functions working off the main campus. We are not going to refer to this as the main campus; we’re going to start calling it the Hilltop Campus.

But one of the exciting developments for the School of Management is that we’re looking at sites in downtown San Francisco which have the potential to house many of our masters programs, particularly the MBA program. We think the convenience for our customers of downtown San Francisco -- in the Financial District — will be attractive, and it will also ease any congestion and overcrowding issues on the Hilltop Campus at the same time. So as we move to a distributed campus, I see the School of Management as being in the forefront of that innovation in the University’s history.

The fourth priority — as I’ve alluded to — is to address issues of morale in our school itself.

As of June 1st, 2011 we have become the School of Management, and I want the School to start thinking about itself as one School — that our history may be from business or professional studies, but we are now one School, one set of procedures, one vision, one mission.

Do you have a Hundred Day plan?
Part of my background as a scholar is the study of the New Deal. I’ve written two books on the New Deal and on President Roosevelt’s politics and policies. So I’m very familiar with the notion of the Hundred Days, which originates from that period. In terms of mapping out a Hundred Day program for the School of Management, the first couple of months will be listening, observing, reading, becoming familiar with an institution that I’ve known for twenty years, but that I’ve not been fully versed in regarding the details of day-to-day operations.

So learning is an important part of being the Dean — to know the people I’m working with, to know their procedures, to know what their vision is.

Then I think I want to implement some changes that will carry us forward through the rest of the year. In particular I’m interested in organizational and structural changes. Are we covering the areas that we need to cover? Are people in the appropriate roles to fulfill our vision? Are there new developments in academic fields, in organizational fields, that we have not taken cognizance of?

One of my advantages is that I’m an outsider, much like Franklin Roosevelt was when he came into office in 1933. And so I feel as if I come to the role of Dean without any prior baggage and in some senses with a clean slate. And I’m hoping that I can pick associate deans and senior directors who are going to help take the school forward.

So that’s my plan for the, the Roosevelt Hundred Days, although this will be the Webber Hundred Days.

interim Dean conducts meeting with the School of Management staff 2
What do you see as the particular strengths of the USF School of Management?
I think the USF School of Management has a number of very distinctive strengths. I think we have an excellent faculty. I think the faculty have engaged with student learning, and are active scholars.

I think we also have staff that is also committed to student learning, and providing services that facilitate learning for students.

We have a wonderful location in the City of San Francisco, with direct access to the diversity of the City. We have access to Silicon Valley. We have our location on the Pacific Rim. So we have a number of competitive advantages given to us simply by virtue of our location.

But there is much for us to do. We can do better with what we have, we can leverage our location, our excellent faculty and our excellent staff to move the school forward: to take cognizance of new developments, both in higher education, and in the field of business; and, to be able to transfer those innovations to our students to provide them with an even richer, first-class, top-notch business education.

What are your thoughts regarding graduate programs?
With the Masters programs I’m interested in us refining our brand, in being able to say why should someone come to USF to do an MBA. I want us to be much more focused on what our particular brand is at the Masters level. And I’m also interested in us being innovative with new graduate programs. There are a number of new areas that I’m interested in exploring, whether that’s, applied analytics or sustainable business. I’m open and receptive to new ideas for innovative programming that I think will tie into the MBA but also have an independent life of their own.

We need, again, to remember that our goal is balanced excellence. We need academic rigor and we need good teaching. But we also need to remember that business education is also about practical relevance. So there is a balance that needs to be achieved between academic rigor and practical relevance. 

interim Dean conducts meeting with the School of Management staff 3
What does The University of San Francisco, itself, mean to you? Did your feeling for the University influence your decision to take an interim position?
I’m very excited by the mission of the University of San Francisco. I think that our mission is distinctive, that we are educating men and women to bring about a more just and humane world.

In all of my endeavors in my 20-year career at USF, I’ve tried to work towards that mission, in both my teaching, my research and in my administrative contributions to the University.

So when Jennifer Turpin, the Provost, asked me to take the role of Interim Dean, I felt that this was an extension of that commitment to the mission.

I felt that there is a role for what we can describe as “servant leadership,” that we need people in the institution who are willing to take on roles to help move the institution forward. And so I see my time as Interim Dean very much in terms of helping the School fulfill its mission, and thereby to be an integral part of the University’s overall mission to educate men and women for the greater good.

So I see this as a very seamless move for me in terms of working for the benefit of the institution and for the School of Management.

Talk about your administrative background, and, how that relates to accreditation in particular.
Okay. My administrative background at USF: I have experience both as an Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, where I was responsible for assessment program review; and also for adjunct faculty. More recently I was an Associate Vice-Provost.

My main responsibilities have been in the broad area of academic effectiveness. So I think I bring to the School of Management some real depth and experience in the assessment of learning. I hope to institute and to initiate a comprehensive system of program review so that we begin the process of looking at best practices in our programs and incorporating those best practices into what we do.

And, I’ve also been — in my career — very concerned with faculty issues: faculty scholarship, faculty productivity, good teaching, what constitutes good teaching, how we evaluate good teaching, how we support good teaching.

I think in all of those areas, in both teaching, research, and service assessment, that I bring something to the School of Management that can help the School —particularly with the immediate goal of attaining reaccreditation.

Assessment of learning is one of the major elements analyzed by the AACSB accreditors, and something that we are working on assiduously at the present time.

interim Dean conducts meeting with the School of Management staff 4
If you were speaking to a prospective student, what would you want to say to them directly?
We have a distinctive product here. We are about not just teaching for the job market, but teaching for life. We are about teaching MBA students, Master’s students and undergraduate students the meaning of having an education in the service of others.

That is distinctively Jesuit Catholic higher education. We have done it here in San Francisco for over a hundred and fifty years. We know what we’re doing, and we can do it well.

And, we are concerned with continuous improvement. We are concerned that the quality of the education we deliver is assessed, that we analyze that assessment and we make changes to improve based upon the data that we’ve collected.

I want students to feel excited about a USF education. I want them to feel as if we offer them something that is unique, something that is distinctive, and something that gives them not just a vocational training, but training for life.

You’ve been in the United States for many years, yet you carry a unique Welsh cultural heritage. Talk about what it means to you to be Welsh at this moment or your life, and our school.
I’m actually somewhat surprised that the President agreed to have a Welshman take charge of a Jesuit business school in the United States. But I think there are some qualities about my national origins that will be useful to me as the Interim Dean of the business school.

I have a strong sense of community, a strong sense of family, which is very important to us in Wales. Loyalty to family, to the culture, to the physical space that Wales is, is something that is very important to us.

We are also pretty tenacious as a people. We have been invaded numerous times, and we have yet survived. The historian Gwynn Williams used to say that the Welsh were like Gwydion the Magician. In English Gwydion is Merlin the Magician.

Gwydion can change his shape, but never who he was. And for the Welsh, over their history, we have often changed our shape, but not changed our essence.

As Dean of the business school, I’m again changing my shape, in an academic and administrative sense, but not, I think, changing my essence:

I love community, I love people I like respectful relationships, I like loyalty. Many of those things come to me from my family and from my roots in the Celtic tradition.

interim Dean conducts meeting with the School of Management staff 5
What do you do for fun?
My whole life isn’t connected with being the Interim Dean of the School of Management. I’m very fortunate to have a family. My wife Laura, my two daughters Alejandra and Andrea. My wife and my daughters are Mexican, and my wonderful, four-year-old grandson Christopher has also become an integral part of my life.

I enjoy family life with all of its dramas. And being in a family of Latinas, I sometimes feel like that I’m in a Mexican soap opera, but I’m always one episode behind what’s going on.

In terms of what I like to do, I love walking. I enjoy music very much. I have an enormous collection of both classical and jazz music. I enjoy the movies, reading, and traveling.

My wife and I, as the girls are growing up, are hopeful that we will have time to be together to explore various parts of the world. Our lives right now revolve around Mexico, Wales and San Francisco, but I’m hoping that over time we’ll get the chance to explore other parts of the world.

My wife is my best friend, and my best companion, and so actually when I think of things that I want to do, I usually think of them in terms of things I would like to do with her or with the family.