Students asked their professors what was going on: Blackberries and laptops were pinging with the news of School of Management Dean Joel Podolny’s resignation. But the faculty had no idea, either.
Leading up to Wednesday, there were no hints, no indications and no whispers that the school’s popular dean was leaving for Apple — except that Podolny switched from a Blackberry to an iPhone a few weeks ago. Even that made sense only in retrospect.
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Utter shock gripped the School of Management on Wednesday morning as the announcement left the community surprised, hurt and generally anxious.
“There was this palpable sense of ‘[What the heck]?’ ” John Bourne SOM ’10 said Wednesday afternoon at a town hall meeting convened to discuss Podolny’s exit.
SOM Professor Paul Bracken said the abruptness of the announcement fed concerns about the school Podolny would leave behind; it was unclear whether transitional arrangements had been made.
“We’re deep into the academic year, and there are a lot of programs we’re working on that Joel launched, which doubles the surprise,” he said.
Wednesday’s e-mail was the first sign for all 10 professors interviewed that Podolny was heading west. Ellis Jones SOM ’79, chair of the school’s board of advisers, said he only found out Monday.
But the decision had long since been made. Podolny listed his 5,700-square-foot Woodbridge, Conn., house on the market 13 days ago.
University President Richard Levin got the news about two weeks ago. Levin then asked professor Sharon Oster, a longtime friend and SOM veteran, to assume the deanship two weeks ago.
By the time the town hall meeting rolled around, the anxious murmurs had escalated to muted panic. Podolny, who said he had received over 200 e-mails since his announcement, appeared apologetic and was eager to calm students’ fears.
“I realize that when you woke up this morning this was not exactly the e-mail you expected today,” he said. “And I certainly realize that I’ve introduced angst into this community in a way that I didn’t anticipate, and I’m sympathetic to that.”
At the meeting, students wondered if more abrupt departures would follow from the ranks of prominent faculty Podolny brought to the school. One of those professors, Andrew Metrick, said he is not going anywhere.
“We’re all here because we have bought into the vision for this school, and Joel was a big part of that vision,” said Metrick, who arrived in 2007. “[But] everyone here is dedicated to making this place live up to the name Yale.”
Raising SOM’s profile to contend with top business schools like those at Harvard and Stanford had largely defined Podolny’s deanship. Professor Antti Petajisto pointed to Podolny’s energy and big ideas, crediting the dean for pushing a curricular overhaul and a glitzy new campus.
“He’s been an unmatched success in leading SOM several strides toward the top of management education,” professor Douglas Rae said.
His absence, Rae added, “presents a serious challenge.”
Levin has assured Oster that the planned campus will move forward, Oster said in an interview. It is unclear how long Oster will serve, although she is expected to serve out at least a large part of the year and a half that remains in Podolny’s term. She is the person to “close the deal” on Podolny’s vision, Deputy Provost for Faculty Development Judith Chevalier ’89 said Wednesday.
The future of SOM education and the SOM brand, especially during a frigid job market, topped the list of student concerns at Wednesday’s crowded meeting, which was simulcast in every SOM classroom. Podolny said he thought carefully about the timing of his announcement. He wanted to break the news early enough to allow the school’s new leadership to establish momentum before admissions season. Oster will take the reins Nov. 1, and Podolny said he plans to stick around for the rest of the calendar year.
Such short notice has left students and faculty with little time to prepare for the post-Podolny era.