Essays: Mike Shirley

On Change, Conflict and Being Bold

A few years ago, I was reviewing proposed changes to our MBA program at the University of Central Oklahoma. And, just to be clear, it was not simply a revision, but rather an entirely new program with team-taught courses. The original framework of the MBA program was gone. Traditional business course offerings were nowhere to be found in the proposal, and this was not what I expected.

As dean, nearly a year earlier, I had charged the faculty curriculum committee to address several issues: the program was dated, carried numerous prerequisites and was, in my opinion, no longer relevant or market-responsive. As a college we faced intense competition, and change was needed. But now, reviewing the proposal, I was concerned. Could we implement such a dramatic change? Could we support and sustain the costs? How would the faculty respond?

The proposal generated lively debate among faculty across academic disciplines. Traditional divides between academic departments were present, but as the notion of interdisciplinary teams was examined, the departmental silos began to fade and new collaborations developed. These collaborations integrated key business foundations into each new course, creating real-world models for the students to explore.

It was an exciting time for the college, filled with rich dialogue and memorable work. Ultimately, the faculty embraced the proposal and created a vibrant and relevant MBA program that continues to thrive.

At the time, I was surprised with the process and outcome. But on reflection, I realize that the bold action of the committee and the faculty of the college was exactly what were needed. Simply put, faculty were up to the challenge. It was an impressive display of critical analysis, and served as an important reminder for me. It is the faculty, with diverse backgrounds and viewpoints, along with the academic programs they create, which drive our universities.

Together, with the staff and administration, we prepare our students for success and service in our dynamic and complex world.