One morning about three years ago, Dr. Melvin Stith brushed past a student who seemed to need assistance in his outer office. When the dean of the Florida State University College of Business stopped to ask the young man if he could help him, the student asked who he was. "I'm the dean," Stith replied. "Yeah, right," the undergraduate business student shot back.
"I had to convince that young man that I really was the dean," Stith recalls, half-laughing. The incident evokes humor, but also sadness because just a few years ago an African American student in his own university could not believe that a Black man could have this position.
The student's skepticism was reasonable. Barely a handful of African Americans are business school deans at predominantly White universities with enrollments exceeding 36,000. Stith, who holds an MBA and Ph.D. in management from Syracuse University and a bachelor's from Norfolk State University, has held that position for 12 years, during which he has garnered the admiration of his colleagues around the country.
Moreover, FSU's College of Business has been a leader in producing minority graduates from its doctoral program. Seven of the 18 doctoral students entering the business college this fall are minorities, and the university placed fourth last year in the Black Issues' Top 100 for awarding the doctorate in business to African Americans.
While business school deans tend to spend less than five years in their positions before moving on, Stith's longevity as dean makes him even more unique. He has boosted the College of Business endowment seven-fold and has built and intensified partnerships with an impressive list of the nation's corporate heavyweights. That reputation combined with the undergraduate business program's consistent ranking in the Top 50 by U.S. News and World Report have netted Stith an early legacy: success.
He attributes his achievements largely to the college's ever-growing list of financial supporters, a stable management team, superior student services, advanced technology, and "faculty, faculty and faculty."
He has made the acquisition and retention of a quality faculty a priority.
"I didn't want us to be a triple-A farm team for the Big 10 schools," Stith remarks, explaining that his goal has been to make the newly minted Ph.D. faculty FSU is known for hiring want to remain at the institution. "We had to stop the blood drain, so I had to make sure we had more faculty supplements and endowments."
To accomplish that, he has grown the endowment from $8 million 12 years ago to its present $55 million, of which he says $37 million is available cash. As a result, one-third of his faculty are on supplemented incomes and the College of Business has nine endowed chairs.
The other key ingredients--administration, student services and technology--also are linked to financial support. According to Stith, prospective students are lured by the institution's reputation, scholarships and the availability of the best technology. "The real recruiting," Stith notes, "is done by our students. Our students send us good students, so we have worked hard to create the best environment possible for them."
And, he adds, "one of the first drivers of that environment is technology." At FSU's College of Business, 12,000 square feet are devoted to technology--in an all-wireless building. Stith says another important component of student services is significant scholarships and extensive retention efforts at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.
MAKING STUDENTS A PRIORITY
For Renee Pratt, who is beginning the doctoral program this fall, FSU emerged as her first choice from eight institutions she was considering. She made her decision after meeting Stith in Chicago at an annual conference sponsored by the Ph.D. Project.
"He sat down and spoke with me right there," Pratt recalls. …