Russell E. Palmer, chief executive officer of Touche Ross International, yesterday was named dean of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

The Washington Post reported last week that Palmer would be offered the job. Palmer was picked for the post after Federal Reserve Chairman Paul A. Volcker turned down the job.

Members of a special search committee met with Volcker to discuss his taking the job, and university sources said he was offered a liberal lecture schedule as well as backing for a book he plans to write. Sources said Volcker, whose term expires in August as Fed chairman, indicated that it would be premature for him to make a commitment to Wharton at this time.

Palmer, 48, the youngest managing partner ever to head one of the big eight accounting firms, is only the second dean in Wharton's 102-year history to come from outside the school. Those who interviewed him for the position described Palmer as a charismatic leader who has both the managerial talent and high visibility in the business community needed to lead the nation's first collegiate school of management until 1990, when his seven-year appointment as dean will expire.

"Three things made me decide to accept the job at Wharton," Palmer said. "First, I have been fortunate at Touche Ross and after a while you get to point in life when you want to contribute and give back. I think I will be fulfilled in helping develop the business leaders of the future. Second, I came to Wharton recently and met with about 20 faculty members, and besides being tremendously impressed, this really seemed like the right place for me. Finally, after being in business for 27 years, and being chief executive officer for 10 years, it was time for a new challenge."

Palmer's lack of formal academic experience was the only issue that divided the university search committee, sources said. Since the search for a new dean began almost a year ago, the committee has been struggling with the question of whether a business leader with no academic experience would make an appropriate choice for dean.

Palmer serves on the advisory councils of the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs and the Geneva-based International Management Institute.

Wharton marketing department Chairman Thomas Robertson said yesterday he believes Palmer will name a strong associate dean from inside the Wharton faculty to aid in running the school's academic affairs.

Palmer will replace Donald C. Carroll, who will leave Wharton in June to become chairman of a British-based multinational computer company for two years, after which he plans to return to the school. Under Carroll's 11-year tenure as dean, Wharton's sponsored research budget has grown from $1 million to $12 million annually. It's executive education program has been strengthened, and the school has taken important steps toward internationalization by establishing ties with at least 10 educational institutions around the world.

Palmer joined Touche Ross in 1956, after graduating from Michigan State University. He was named a partner in 1966, became managing partner and chief executive officer of Touche Ross & Co. (U.S.) in 1972 and has served as managing director and chief executive officer of Touche Ross International since 1974. Palmer said he was happy to return to Philadelphia, where he headed the Touche Ross office from 1968 to 1972.