Debut of a dean

College of Business needs to broaden its reach, says new leader

HERE TO STAY? Chico State’s new business dean, Dalen Chiang, says he’s “trying to make up” for continuity lost in recent years as the university looked for a long-term dean. He said the average tenure for a business dean nationwide is four years, and it takes two years to search for a new one.

HERE TO STAY? Chico State’s new business dean, Dalen Chiang, says he’s “trying to make up” for continuity lost in recent years as the university looked for a long-term dean. He said the average tenure for a business dean nationwide is four years, and it takes two years to search for a new one.

Stick around: Dalen Chiang is the fourth person to lead Chico State’s College of Business since 1998. After Arno Rethans stepped down, Professor Marc Siegall served as interim dean until Heikki Rinne was hired. Rinne bailed after a year and one-half, after which Stephen King of the College of Communication and Education served as the interim dean.

Dr. Dalen Chiang thought he’d left snow behind when he moved from Cleveland to Chico last summer. But the new dean of Chico State University’s College of Business is taking surprises like last week’s snowfall in stride. He likes it here.

“People in Chico are great. They’re very nice,” Chiang observed. “If I am standing around, people ask, ‘Are you lost? Where do you want to go?’ That wouldn’t happen in Cleveland.”

If Chiang sounds like he has staying power, that’s quite a switch from the college’s last dean, Heikke Rinne, who bolted back to private industry in December 2000 after just a year and one-half on the job. Meanwhile, the College of Business was still under “continuous review"—probation-type status—by the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) and directed to push its faculty to produce more scholarly works. (A major progress report is due in 2003.)

Conversely, Chiang—administration and faculty willing—plans to stay at Chico State until he retires.

Chiang, who at almost 55 has gray-tipped black hair and last week sported a golfing tie along with his sharp suit, was tapped by Chico State’s search committee in June 2001 from Cleveland State University, where he had been for 25 years. His wife and the youngest of their three children are back in Ohio until his son finishes up high school.

A native of Taiwan (he moved from China while just a baby), Chiang came to the United States with his mother and younger brother when he was 16. He attended Virginia Tech and UC Berkeley.

He’s one of only two business deans nationwide of East Asian descent, Chiang mentioned.

He had been told over the years that corporate CEOs generally prefer to deal with people who look like them—white and male. “It’s difficult for Asians to break into that fraternity, so to speak.” Dean search committees in other regions make similar assumptions, he said. “California is the only state that is different.”

But since he landed the Chico State job, several of his Asian-American friends have been inspired to apply for similar posts. “For that, I am very proud,” he said. “If they don’t apply, they will never get the job.”

At Chico State, Chiang’s first order of business, so to speak, is to reorganize the department and decentralize funding so each program is in charge of its own budget. “I don’t need to micromanage them,” he said. Second, he wants to improve the Master’s of Business Administration program.

Business colleges are usually judged by the quality of their MBA program, Chiang said. Although Chico State’s business program has been rated the best in the California State University system, he said, the college wouldn’t be widely known outside of the state if not for its innovative program incorporating SAP software. Graduates skilled in SAP are highly sought after by companies that use the software. “It has the top program in terms of incorporating SAP software into the business curriculum—that’s what I know Chico State for,” said Chiang, who had headed up the SAP program at Cleveland State University.

Chiang believes the current number of MBA candidates, 70, is way too low. “We can double that number without increasing our costs … because the classes are not full.”

He’d like to set up a system whereby students in departments like engineering, agriculture and fine arts could pursue an MBA along with their other studies. “In five years, they’ll get two degrees,” he said.

He also wants to look outside Chico for a “niche market” of MBA students. “Because we’re not an urban school, we don’t have many businesses here,” Chiang said. He means big corporations of the type that would be likely to send their employees to continuing education courses. Chico State, he figures, could bring an MBA program to a work site—perhaps as far away as the Bay Area.

Chiang found an unexpected challenge when he tried to meet one of his earliest goals: hiring more faculty members of high quality, which would lower class sizes and offer students broader experiences with teachers who have industry experience. “It turned out to be much more difficult than I thought,” he said. “We [the CSU system] don’t pay the first-rate salaries for our faculty.” Professors here don’t get paid extra to teach master’s-level classes, either.

Also, just last week, Chico State’s Academic Senate heard a presentation on the department’s desire to split into two emphases with two separate budgets: a business administration major and a new business information systems (BIS) degree. The latter would offer options in management information systems, accounting and supply chain management to turn out more marketable students. If the faculty senate, provost, president and chancellor approve the program, it could be offered as soon as fall 2002.

Chiang said that under the new structure students could take BIS coursework as soon as they got to Chico State rather than wait until their junior year for upper-division classes.

There are also new courses on entrepreneurship; one called “New Venture Creations” filled up the first day. “Obviously, there’s a demand,” he said, as many people prefer to run their own businesses rather than work for someone else. Chiang, grinning optimistically, hopes that someone will step forward and endow an entrepreneurship center. (He’s run his own businesses, too, from a computer store franchise to an antiques import-export venture.)

In recent years, the state has given CSU presidents and deans an additional job: raising money. That means schmoozing with private-industry bigwigs and connecting with alumni to make up the difference between what the state provides and the colleges need to operate.

Chiang said he’s up for the task and even enjoys fund-raising. He’s pleased with the partnerships the College of Business already has with such companies as Hewlett-Packard and Cisco Systems.

“It’s much harder for a new dean to do fund-raising because nobody knows who I am,” said Chiang, who is hopeful about his connections with Chinese executives in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley. He isn’t sure how much money he’s personally brought in but figures the department has raised a respectable $600,000 in private donations so far this year.

“I’m sure the administration would want us to raise more money than this,” he acknowledged. One problem is that no one kept good track of the 50 to 70 people a year who graduated from Chico State’s business college in the 1960s—alumni who may have now come into their own financially. “If we don’t ask, they don’t give. Nobody walks into your office and tries to give you a million bucks.”

Looking forward a few years, Chiang would love to see the department flush with funding, with a stellar MBA program and other cutting-edge educational offerings. Once that’s all rolling, Chiang hinted, he hopes to teach a little bit, too—maybe a course a year.