Tippie dean search: Oklahoma business school associate dean emphasizes inclusion, accessibility

The University of Iowa hosted an open forum via Zoom Thursday for the first finalist in its search for a new dean in the Tippie College of Business.


Ryan Adams

University of Oklahoma Price College of Business Associate Dean for Academic Programs and Engagement Laku Chidambaram speaks during a forum in search of a new Dean of the Tippie College of Business over a Zoom video call on April 23, 2020. This is the first forum in search of a new dean for the college of business.

Rachel Schilke, News Reporter

In its first public forum in its search for a new Tippie College of Business Dean, candidate Laku Chidambaram emphasized inclusion and accessibility for students, faculty, and staff in his vision for the helm of the University of Iowa’s business school.

The UI hosted its first public forum in its search for a new Tippie College of Business Dean via Zoom Thursday. Chidambaram, associate dean for academic programs and engagement at the University of Oklahoma Michael F. Price College of Business, is the first finalist for the position after former dean Sarah Gardial left in March to lead Belmont University’s business school in Tennessee.

After Gardial in October shared her departure plans, Tippie announced in October that the UI would begin an external search for a new dean. The UI plans to have a new person to lead the business school in place by the fall 2020 semester.

Chidambaram held up two letters during the forum, which involved students, faculty, and staff. One dated April 11, 1983 and the other June 17, 1983 — from the University of Georgia conveying his acceptance and an assistantship to the university.

He said this was the “bridge” that transformed his life and built his formula for success.

“It doesn’t matter whether you have a great business education, and it doesn’t matter if students are willing to put in great effort,” Chidambaram said. “If there’s not a way to connect the two together, it isn’t going to happen.”

UI dean search committee co-chair Amy Colbert, the Management and Organizations department executive officer, ran the Zoom meeting, and said that as the committee members observed Chidambaram, the word that they would apply to him is “thoughtful.”

“[Chidambaram] is a strategic thinker,” Colbert said. “He thinks deeply about problems, and he has done some really innovative things at [OU] … he is someone who has ideas for the future of business education.”

Colbert added Chidambaram’s desire to develop effective communication relationships between himself, students, and faculty distinguishes him from his peers. Chidambaram said this philosophy stems from Winston Churchill quote that he has used in his six years at OU.

“Everything I’ve done, every program that I have launched, every dollar that I raised, every academic endeavor that I have been involved in is best captured in this quote: ‘Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen,’ ” Chidambaram said.

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He said the second part of the quote is most important, and he believes the next Tippie dean should have the courage to sit down and listen to those who are very different from himself to gain new perspectives and engage with inclusive ideas.

“You don’t know everything, regardless of what your title is at the [front] of your name,” Chidambaram said. “You don’t know it all. So, listen with the intent to learn, as opposed to listening with the intent to respond. And then listen to yourself.”

Chidambaram said the most important metric that he would follow as a dean is the success of the students who come through the program. He said he would build an effective educational ecosystem by strengthening research and academic programs.

Chidambaram added that he would want to focus on both the development and dissemination of knowledge so that students would gain experiential and academic experience to increase their chances for success.

“When you have a very strong sense of purpose that connects people,” he said. “… Then those students become our students, and their success becomes our success. I can see from the conversations I have had today that people [in Tippie] are taking ownership of success — not just their own, but everybody that they’re associated with.”

Chidambaram said another component he would implement if selected would be to focus on innovation and expand upon global development and solving big problems in the world.

He said that he recently wrote an op-ed on what role the business community will play once the “war against COVID-19” is won.

“Innovation happens at the intersection, it happens at the edges [of education],” Chidambaram said. “[There are] evolving challenges facing business education, this evolution of looking at business as a discipline to looking at business as a solution — the focus on shifting from earning a diploma to learning for life.”