Courtesy of Yale School of Management

Kerwin Charles is still settling into his office — sparsely decorated and organized to maximize efficiency — after officially beginning his tenure as the Indra K. Nooyi Dean of the School of Management on July 1.

Charles left his endowed professorship at the University of Chicago to lead the SOM at Yale. Charles has dedicated his academic life to interdisciplinary thought, having published papers on a range of issues including the relationship between the housing market and college enrollment as well as economic consumption as it relates to race. Charles said he needs to be at a place like Yale SOM, a place that values scholarship and investigates problems at the boundary of business and society. He said he could not work at an institution that did not have these criteria at its core. As he begins his tenure and identifies his priorities, Charles said the SOM has an opportunity to reimagine how it applies its values.

“The fact that the mission is well understood does not mean that it cannot be periodically reexamined or revivified,” Charles said.
Charles succeeds former SOM Dean Ted Snyder, who also worked at UChicago prior to his employment at Yale.

During his eight-year tenure, Snyder — who is now an economics and management professor at the school — developed a global network of business schools, introduced a variety of new degree offerings and expanded the school’s executive education programming.

In a March email to the News, Snyder said Charles will have “a profound impact on SOM, the Yale community and beyond.”
Charles said that before he pursues his specific plans for the SOM, he wants to get to know the broader community. He plans to dine regularly with his students and go over papers with professors to familiarize himself with their research.

The University announced Charles’ appointment in March 2019.

“I have gotten to know Professor Charles over the past few months, and he is quite remarkable,” Salovey said in a March email to the News. “He is a gifted educator, a committed scholar and a warm individual. Most importantly, he embraces the School of Management’s special mission and will be an inspiring leader.”

As for his transition from an expert on poverty and inequality to a dean of a business school, Charles said that it was predicated on having just the right opportunity. “Right,” for Charles, meant a world-class research institution, a place for which the “life of the mind,” inquiry, scholarship and rigor matter. SOM also drew him in through its unique mission, he said, listed on the school’s website: “to educate leaders for business and society.”

Charles said that over time he will flesh out what that means to him.

Throughout Charles’ life, he said social problems and how they intersect with various disciplines have fascinated him. He added that economics as a discipline lends itself very well to that collaborative thinking. To Charles, fresh perspectives often require interdisciplinary work.

Despite his transition to administrative roles, Charles continues to identify first and foremost as an educator.

“I think of myself … as a scholar and teacher,” Charles said. “If you were to wake me up in the middle of the night somewhere at any point in my life since I was 25 and said ‘Kerwin, what do you do?’ [I would say] I read and write papers and teach school, that’s what I do.”

Charles attributed his interest in academia to a lifetime spent reading voraciously. Currently, the bibliophile is reading “Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson.” A native of Guyana, he says that he comes from a “very close” family where debate and arguments were fixtures of everyday life. He said questions like “why do you like that?” and conversations with people who hold vastly different perspectives inform his life as a scholar.

Still, his office in Evans Hall is very much a work in progress, Charles said, as he slapped the arm of his desk chair. He insisted that there is a vision, which will be complete with works from students, pictures of his wife and kids, books from professors in the school and more than a few plants. He will not be moving his portrait of W.E.B. Du Bois — that belongs in his study at home, he added.

And in addition to setting up his office, spearheading plans for the SOM and getting to know his students, Charles said he plans to partake in one of his favorite campus activities: attending seminars outside of his field to see how “clearly brilliant people” think.

The School of Management is located at 165 Whitney Ave.

John Besche | john.besche@yale.edu