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(March 7, 2002, Gazette)

Unconventional wisdom

Dean Bill Blake with wife Karen and children Christopher and Caroline.Dean Bill Blake with wife Karen and children Christopher and Caroline.

As dean of the Faculty of Business Administration, Dr. Bill Blake has had to make some tough decisions, but perhaps the toughest one was deciding to step down as dean. His path to becoming dean was unconventional and while his next career move may be perceived as that, Dr. Blake is confident it is a step in the right direction.

One morning when he was flipping through the classified section of the Globe and Mail, Dr. Blake saw an ad for a job opportunity that would change his family’s life. “The job description was perfect for my wife, Karen,” said Dr. Blake. “It was a position at Kingston General Hospital in Ontario as vice president of public affairs and development.”

In February, Ms. Blake left her position as the executive director of the communications and consultation branch of the provincial government’s executive counsel and started work in her new position at Kingston General Hospital. Ironically, she is now working in the hospital where Dr. Blake was born. In June, he and their two children, Christopher and Caroline, will join her in Ontario.

“This is a big move for all of us,” he said. “My second term as dean would have been ending in a year-and-a-half, and I had already decided not to seek a third term. But I could have taken an administrative leave and settled back into the faculty here. Instead, I’ll be joining the faculty at Queen’s University. Karen is already in Kingston so things are quite hectic here with running the faculty, taking care of the kids and preparing to move.”

Before moving to Newfoundland, the longest Dr. Blake ever lived in any one place was eight years. “Originally I thought we’d be here for two to five years. And now 16 years later, after building our careers and starting a family here, we’re finding it hard to leave. I feel closer to this place than to any other but Kingston has always been on our short list of places we’d like to live. My family and Karen’s family are spread out across southern Ontario and we would like to be closer to them.”

A native of Kingston, and a graduate of the Royal Military College of Canada, Dr. Blake spent six years in the Canadian Navy prior to entering the University of Western Ontario where he completed an MBA and a PhD in business.

Dr. Blake joined the faculty in 1986 and went from being an academic to an academic administrator in six years, becoming the dean in 1993. During his tenure the Faculty of Business Administration has undergone many changes. He has led the development of teaching and support technology for faculty and the establishment of a new bachelor of business administration degree program that can now be completed via the Web. Most recently, he has led the faculty through a two-year process toward accreditation by the Association for the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).

But Dr. Blake is most proud of the number of faculty members that he’s been able to support in the pursuit of their doctorates and the development of 13 international student exchange partnerships. “Both of these initiatives can be truly life-changing and open up new possibilities for the individuals involved.”

Leaving the faculty won’t be easy. In addition to leaving friends and colleagues behind, Dr. Blake will also have to leave some unfinished projects. He feels the priorities of the new dean should include a fund-raising campaign to acquire new resources, to support scholarly activities, and to address faculty salaries. “It’s important that we attract and retain new faculty,” he said. “It’s also important that we invest in research and infrastructure so we can continue to deliver high-quality programs.”

As his final contribution, Dr. Blake and the faculty hosted a peer review team from AACSB International in February. The final decision regarding the accreditation of the Faculty of Business Administration will not be made until April. However, if the review is positive, it would be the first business faculty in Atlantic Canada to be accredited by this international accreditation body.

“We pursued the accreditation effort as an excellent foundation on which to build,” says Dr. Blake. “It would give us a tremendous opportunity to market the faculty and will help recruit faculty members and students from across the country and internationally.”

He also has a few pieces of advice for the new dean to help make the transition a little smoother. “An older dean gave me a piece of advice during a conference for new deans that I’ve never forgotten. He said, ‘from time to time, whether you need to or not, go on a trip, because you need to.’ He was right; everyone needs to be able to pull back from the day-to-day activities and spend some time away from the job. It gives you a chance to focus on the big issues.

“Second, the world isn’t always black and white. To be an effective dean, you need to operate in the grey zone. Deans represent so many stakeholders and perspectives. It’s important to consider all points of view before making decisions. It’s important that your colleagues perceive you as being fair.

“And my third piece of advice is don’t assume there’s a problem because someone says there is. When I first became dean, if someone walked into my office and said the sky was falling, I would run straight out and say the sky was falling. Now, I take more time to consider the situation. It’s usually better to sleep on it.”