Profile: New Business Dean John Kohl
- July 11, 2005
Pausing in the midst of packing for a cross-country move - or at least half a country's worth - the new dean of Cal State East Bay's College of Business and Economics was in a reflective mood.
"I stopped to think the other day how many times we have moved, and this is the 20th time," said John Kohl, who has spent the past six years as a professor of management at Texas A&M International University in the border town of Laredo. For four of those years, from 1999 to 2003, he also served as dean of the university's College of Business Administration.
"It never gets any easier," he said about pulling up stakes.
Accompanying him, as she has 19 times before, will be his wife of 38 years, Nancy, whom he met when they were high school sophomores.
Kohl, a native Pennsylvanian who has packed the equivalent of a few lifetimes into 62 years, has had that kind of life and career. Officially starting his new duties July 5, he already has an impressive record of serving as both a professor and high-ranking administrator in the business departments of San Jose State University, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Texas at El Paso and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
In the midst of pursuing his academic career, Kohl also became an ordained Congregational minister who led two churches in the South and Midwest and just retired as a full colonel after a 29-year career of active and reserve duty in the Army. One of his "active" assignments was serving as an Army chaplain from 1973 to 1978.
His career - or multiple careers - have taken him from Pennsylvania to Florida, Minnesota, California, Nevada, Germany and Texas - and now back to California.
"I've been trying to get back there ever since I left the first time," said Kohl, who was a business professor at San Jose State from 1985 to 1988.
His return ticket to the West Coast comes compliments of Cal State East Bay, which hired Kohl to replace interim business school dean Sam N. Basu, who had filled the job for the past two years since longtime dean Jay Tontz stepped down. One of 37 applicants from throughout the nation, Kohl was the unanimous choice of the search committee, according to Charles Baird, committee chairman.
"He was hired because of his many years of experience in the field, varied background and what we felt was his ability to play the politics you have to play at a university to get the resources you need for your department or college," said Baird, director of the university's Smith Center for Private Enterprise Studies. "We were all impressed with his clarity of thought and ability to articulate his thoughts in a very persuasive manner. He can really hold his own, which is an important quality in a dean."
Baird said another strong qualification was Kohl's deftness and experience at fund-raising activities, which have become increasingly important in education generally and at Cal State East Bay in particular. One of the biggest reasons university President Norma Rees pushed to replace the Cal State Hayward moniker with a more regional name was her belief that it would attract outside financial contributions.
"He has a lot of experience raising money from people other than taxpayers," Baird said of Kohl.
Baird said he is impressed by Kohl's plan to form an advisory committee of outside business people to work with his department on curriculum and other matters.
"I've been on campus 32 years and we have never had an advisory board," he said. "Our chief product is people to be hired by businesses in the Bay Area and beyond, so we should have a better idea what employers want and need."
Besides his wish to return to the Bay Area, Kohl said he was attracted to Cal State East Bay's diversity and international connections.
The business school operates executive MBA programs in Beijing, Singapore, Hong Kong, Moscow and Graz, Austria. During his four years running Texas A&M International's business school, Kohl increased the percentage of foreign-born faculty from 35 percent to 70 percent, so he is a big fan of "internationalizing" college personnel and curriculum. Up to a point, at least.
"All (of the Texas A&M faculty) had to have earned their degrees from U.S. schools," Kohl said.
Kohl said one of his first priorities will be evaluating the effectiveness of the college's overseas programs, which he wants to update and strengthen to keep them relevant to foreign business people and Americans looking to expand their horizons.
Another element of the Cal State East Bay program that drew Kohl west is the 67,000-square-foot Wayne and Gladys Valley Business and Technology Center that will serve as the College of Business and Economics new home when it opens late next year. It will be the first new building to open on the Hayward campus since 1971 and will replace the school's aging, cramped quarters in the Music and Business building.
"It will be a wonderful addition to the program because the new technology center will meet all of our needs," Kohl said of the structure that is mostly being funded by outside contributions. "Its construction is a real feather in the cap of Dr. Rees."
And, he added, it's scheduled to open about the same time an accreditation team starts its periodic review of the unversity's program, which shouldn't hurt its chances, during the 2006-2007 academic year.
As a professor, Kohl's academic specialty has been human resource issues, with a strong emphasis on examining issues of workplace discrimination. It's a subject that began to capture his attention early in his academic - and religious - career, when he served on a president's committee to promote integration of schools in Volusia County, Fla., during the 1960s. At the time, he was pastor of a Congregational church in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., a small coastal town south of Daytona Beach.
"It was very interesting, important work that has helped set the tone for my academic career," Kohl said, noting his heightened interest in social justice issues in society and the workplace.