President Neil L. Rudenstine summed up outgoing Dean of the Business School John H. McArthur's tenure admirably when he said, "[Y]ou don't run the Harvard Business School for 15 years without being absolutely extraordinary."
McArthur hasn't just stayed in his job because no one else wanted it--he's had an incredible effect on the Harvard Business School (HBS).
McArthur assumed his post at a time when HBS was removed from the center of managerial life, a tower of theory without the firmest grounding in practice. HBS also lacked solid financial backing and had a deteriorating infrastructure. McArthur rescued the school from its impending crises and, over a period of 15 years, made it stronger than ever--the idyllic jewel of Harvard's many campuses.
But Publications including Business Week and U.S. News and World Report charged that HBS was still out-of-touch with the professional world and left its graduates at a competitive disadvantage. In response, McArthur inaugurated his Leadership and Learning approach to revitalize the Harvard MBA program.
An avid trouble-shooter and personally involved administrator, McArthur suffered only from occasional rumors of personal tensions with Rudenstine. Indeed, his sometimes-brusque manner could have put off some people. But McArthur made it through 15 years without any major fall-outs, a hard act to follow.
The most important task facing the next dean of HBS will be revolutionizing the school's academic aims and its curriculum. HBS can no longer seek to be a training ground exclusively for financiers and executives. The school has already begun to open its doors and cater to public servants, non-profit organizers and mediators through summer programs initiated under McArthur.
The new dean will find HBS in much less dire straits than McArthur did. We hope that the dean will continue McArthur's custom of constantly talking to students and faculty and giving their concerns equal priority. McArthur's move to integrate and involve HBS with its surrounding communities also set a commendable example.
The new dean will also have to deal with renewed questions about HBS's relations with the University. Traditionally, HBS students can only receive Ph. D degrees under the auspices of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. But McArthur is fighting for HBS's right to grant their own.
And the new dean will have to consider a question that has in the past put HBS at odds with smaller schools at the University. Should HBS, with its wealthy alumni network, raise funds for poorer schools at the University as well? Harvard schools have traditionally relied on the maxim, "every tub on its own bottom." President Rudenstine has asked that University schools work closer together for the multi-million dollar capital campaign.
President Rudenstine has invited "every person in the school" to write him a letter with recommendations for HBS's future and its new dean. We encourage all students and faculty to take advantage of this rare opportunity, and we hope that Rudenstine will listen well to the concerns of those who know HBS best.
McArthur will never be far from Harvard in the next few years as he oversees the merger of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital. Despite McArthur's long shadow, the University should not hesitate to seek out a dynamic leader who can catapult HBS to preeminence again.
While primarily internal candidates have been suggested for the dean's job, we trust that the University will open its search to all administrators of McArthur's high caliber.
Still, his shoes will be difficult to fill. With a 38-year history at the school, McArthur had an unparalleled personal commitment to HBS's advancement; we don't doubt that he will now, in his own words, be "one of [HBS's] most enthusiastic fans in the world."