Dr. Jack Duncan, former interim deanW. Jack Duncan served as an interim dean from 1997-1999.  Here, he reflects on that time of transition:

What was your vision for the school while you served as dean?

In terms of the organizational life cycle, the UAB School of Business was in the “mature” stage of development when I assumed the role of interim dean. We were only a year or two away from the celebration of our 30th anniversary. The past three decades had given the School the opportunity to formalize a complete product line of courses, majors and partnerships with organizations inside and outside of UAB. My vision for the School was to consolidate the many achievements we made over the past 30 years, take a breather, consolidate our achievements, and shore up the quality of our offerings. An interesting reality we faced was that in the year prior to my appointment as interim dean there was an explosion of staff positions with the creation of the following staff offices – business office with business manager and staff support; development, alumni, and external relations with a director and staff support; and computing services. This happened despite relatively small growth in undergraduate enrollment, negative decline in graduate enrollment and relatively stable faculty. This created some degree of confusion among faculty and university leadership. Much of the vision was consumed in the first year developing a strategic direction for the integration of newly acquired staff support and developing ways for this to enhance the academic mission of the School.

What’s your fondest memory about your time as dean?

There are so many fond memories during this time that it is hard to select only one. However, for me personally, my fondest memory is the priority that the School was given by the president and top-level executive leadership of the university. Soon after my appointment as interim dean, the UAB hired Dr. Ann Reynolds as president and Dr. Peter O’Neil became provost. Initial discussions with both the president and provost assured the faculty of the School that top leadership was committed to the continued development of the School of Business. Throughout my tenure, the administration of the university demonstrated this commitment by delivering on promises made and challenging the leadership of the School to think big about how we could move to a higher level of academic achievement.

What challenges did your face during your tenure as dean?

Leadership always presents challenges. One of the greatest challenges was the management of expectations on the part of the faculty. The demographics of the School was significantly changing. Most of the faculty (myself included) had been recruited during times of very rapid growth. The students we worked with, both undergraduate and graduate, were primarily older than the traditional college student, worked full or part-time, and commuted to school. There were some full-time undergraduate students but no full-time graduate students. This was rapidly changing. Dormitories were being built, green spaces created, calls for student organizations were being heard and the entire culture of the UAB seemed to be evolving from the commuter college to a more traditional campus. This demanded different ways of operating in the School, and we were not prepared for many of the changes.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

As mentioned above, my primary charge after a year of chaos at the leadership level of the School was to settle things down, to mend the ruffled feathers of the University of Alabama and proceed with all due speed to recruit a permanent dean. Fortunately, having been on the faculty for 25 years prior to my appointment as interim dean, faculty members seemed to accept me as one of their own and were supportive of efforts to re-establish operational stability in our programs. Associate Dean Bob Scott and I spent much of our time early in my tenure going back and forth with the administration of the business school at UA resolving conflicts that had erupted during the past year. And although we had a less-than-successful search for a permanent dean on our first attempt, we were incredibly fortunate on our second try in recruiting and hiring Dr. Robert Holmes, a proven leader, to come to Birmingham and guide the continuing development of the School. 

Students campusTwo other accomplishments also resulted in a degree of pride. Although as a faculty member I had been somewhat skeptical about the sudden increase in overhead that took place in the prior year, there were two developments that gave me a great feeling of accomplishment. The first was the creation of a Career Center. As noted above, we had always viewed our students as not needing assistance in job placement. Our outdated view was that virtually all our students were working full-time, had promising jobs and did not need assistance in placement. That was a big mistake, and creating a Career Center was tangible evidence that we recognized the new reality.

The second major accomplishment had to do with the university technology fee. During the previous year, the School of Business had become hopelessly behind the curve in terms of technology. Our computers were several generations old, our computer lab was totally insufficient, and software was lacking. Leapfrogging several generations and getting technologically updated seemed impossible. Then the UAB enacted a technology fee on all students. Associate Dean Scott, the School’s IT staff, and I committed to designating every penny of the technology fee to student-based technology improvements. The students were paying the fee and we were committed to seeing that they enjoyed the benefits. Over the next two years we moved from hopelessly outdated to second to none regarding technology.

Do you have a message for current students? Faculty and staff?

My primary message to students, faculty, and staff would be to enjoy what you have. Each time I walk into the new Collat School of Business I am overcome with how far we have come. In 50 years we have come from a second floor in a depreciating building to one of the most magnificent buildings on campus. New programs have been created and implemented and offer opportunities to more and more students while the new programs offer new opportunities for faculty research as well.

What are you looking forward to Collat accomplishing in the future?

At this point our future seems unlimited. Collat now enjoys exceptional leadership, devoted faculty and staff, and more support from the business community than at any time in its history. The building stands as a monument to and evidence of this support. Hopefully, the Collat/business community partnership will remain as strong as it is today.