Q&A: Dean Williamson Talks Research, Future

Interim Dean Rohan Williamson has served in the McDonough School of Business for a little over a month, replacing former Dean David Thomas, who stepped down after five years in the role.

A finance professor in the McDonough School of Business faculty since 1997, Williamson has had a far-reaching career in the MSB. Williamson has served on several committees during his time at the school, including the McDonough School of Business Undergraduate Curriculum Committee, the Academic Leadership Council and the Diversity Committee. Williamson also served on the committee that helped select Thomas as dean five years ago.

Williamson has received numerous accolades for his research papers, including the 1999 Michael Bensen Prize from the Journal of Financial Economics and the 2003 William Sharpe Best Paper Award from the Journal of Financial and Qualitative Analysis. He ranks 169th of more than 300,000 influential authors on the Social Science Research Network.

In an interview with The Hoya, Williamson discussed the value of research, the MSB’s increasing prestige and the role Georgetown students play in the world after graduation.

What contributed to the decision, in your opinion, for the administration to select you as interim dean?
That’s hard for me to say, I was on the other side, but [President John J. DeGioia] and [Provost Robert Groves] made the decision. Just thinking about myself, this is my 20th year, I’ve had several leadership positions in the business school and at the university level, have been a part of dean searches, so I imagine that has something to do with it. I don’t know their specific decision criteria but I know they wanted someone that was here to maintain stability and maintain leadership of the school.

How long will you serve as interim dean?
There is not a specified time frame. The way the process is there will be a search for someone permanent. The agreement is for at least a year, potentially longer — so the amount of time has not been specified.

Tell me about your role as the Bolton Sullivan and Thomas A. Dean chair of iinternational business? What does that entail?
So I pride myself in my research and to become a chair professor it’s mainly given on the level of research that one’s accomplished. So that chair was based on research accomplishments. The other part of it is teaching, obviously. I primarily teach international finance but I’ve developed a reputation in international finance and risk management and corporate governance and those are my areas of expertise. And that earns you a chair position, so as I mentioned before as a professor that’s primarily what you do, beyond the leadership of what I’ve done in the school I’ve developed a research reputation that earned me that chair.

What recent accomplishments of the McDonough School of Business do you think have contributed to its increasing prestige in the academic world, and what changes do you foresee for the future to maintain or improve its position?
I think in a relatively short period of time we’ve come a long way. All of our programs are ranked in the top 20, which is astonishing compared to other schools. Some schools are much older than we are that aren’t doing nearly as well. I think that’s primarily been driven by the quality of students; I think the Georgetown reputation goes a long way.
We have top-quality students and top-quality faculty that really engage in the teaching process. Over the years we have become very strong in our research productivity because as a research-based school we are creating knowledge, not just teaching what’s already been done. And I think those two combinations are a very important part of it.
That’s also building the Jesuit tradition, we get students here that are focused on their success, which are a big part of progressing in rankings. And we’re able to attract the best. I think our faculty and students are very committed to the institution, and they broadcast Georgetown and the quality of it. And recruiters know that, they know when they come to Georgetown that they get top-level students and that they’re taught by the best. And alumni are part of this too because success breeds success and as they graduate they reach back and are really committed to the university.
I think those are the main ingredients in making Georgetown so successful.

Recently the university has made business courses available for non-McDonough School of Business students. What do you think motivated that decision?
I think several things. I think the growth and the quality of the business education is something that is attractive to other parts of the university, and Georgetown has a tradition where probably the majority of students at least have a minor and a lot have double-majors. Because students are very interested not just in one particular field but they know about other parts, and they are creative in wanting to combine certain disciplines to get those tidbits of knowledge that will help guide them in a particular career.
So I think other parts of the university want that link to the business school that gets them that knowledge to advance them in a special career that they may have. There’s also business school students that go the other way, so it’s only natural that opening a minor for other parts of the university is a good thing to do. It helps other parts of the school and it helps the university.

Why do you think so many Georgetown students pursue careers in business after graduation, regardless of whether they graduate from the McDonough School of Business?
I think Georgetown students are leaders, they’re go-getters. They want to make a contribution to society in various ways. There are different approaches to that, through medicine, law and other things. I think we’ve built a unique niche, sort of developing the whole personality in the Jesuit tradition, where students just want to do more.
In a global society, the way to make your contribution globally is through a good knowledge of business and business principles. It can be applied to nonprofits and in governments and other places. I think students go into business as a way to make a contribution. At Georgetown, we talk about how you get more so you can give more.
That’s something that’s in the DNA of Georgetown students beyond just the business school, this desire to do more to help society and business can do this.

What are your plans for after your tenure as interim dean comes to a close? Is this experience going to change your approach at all returning to your role as a faculty member?
What this experience gives you is an opportunity to see the school and the university in general. Your main focus as a faculty member is direct contact with the students, so you don’t have contact with the rest of the university.
This position as dean gives me more contact with faculty, alumni and with all aspects of the university—incoming students, graduation, staff, etc. And that’s something I can take back to being a faculty member is seeing how the whole system works and a greater appreciation for the contributions of all the members of the Georgetown family.
I guess not everyone can have that experience but it’s a tremendous learning experience. I now have an understanding of the whole system that I always knew was there but I didn’t understand the importance of a lot of roles besides those just in the classroom. I now appreciate the roles of everyone much more including students and student leaders.

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