He was an insider who nearly everyone could line up behind, known for his long tenure and big ideas.
The appointment of longtime University of Virginia dean Carl P. Zeithaml on Tuesday as the school’s interim president surprised many inside and outside the university. But those familiar with Zeithaml, including rivals at other schools, say the 62-year-old strategic management expert is well-equipped to step in and lead a campus that is still reeling from the abrupt ouster of his predecessor, Teresa A. Sullivan.
Sullivan resigned June 10 after two years on the job, citing “a philosophical difference of opinion” with some members of the school’s Board of Visitors. Rector Helen E. Dragas had criticized Sullivan for moving too slowly to address “an existential threat” facing the university as a result of the sluggish economy and declining state support.
In contrast to Sullivan, who had no prior ties to the university, Zeithaml is well known to faculty, administrators and governing board members. He came to Charlottesville in 1997 to become dean of the McIntire School of Commerce, the university’s undergraduate business program, a job he still holds. He is one of the the longest-serving deans at U-Va. During his tenure, he has made a name for himself as an innovator and someone who has tackled ever-present funding challenges by creating new programs.
One of his earliest and best-known accomplishments was a makeover of the undergraduate business curriculum. He put more emphasis on real-world experiences, having students work in teams on problems facing actual businesses and make presentations to corporate executives. That approach helped McIntire land at the top of Businessweek’s rankings of undergraduate business programs, which began in 2006. Last year, McIntire was ranked second, after the University of Notre Dame. It has also occupied the top spot in the past.
“He was critical in moving McIntire up the rankings,” said Norean Sharpe, undergraduate dean of the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, which was 10th last year in the Businessweek rankings. Sharpe earned a doctorate at U-Va. and her daughter recently received a masters in commerce from McIntire, one of several new degree programs Zeithaml helped create that have brought in revenue for the school.
To help finance some of McIntire’s core undergraduate classes, Zeithaml helped line up corporate sponsors, such as Rolls-Royce and Major League Baseball. He is also known as a prolific fundraiser, a skill some governing board members found lacking in Sullivan. He helped secure funding for McIntire’s current home, a $58 million state-of-the-art addition that opened in 2007.
The board’s handling of Sullivan’s departure sparked protests on campus, and angered the faculty senate, which, in turn, called for Dragas and several other board members to resign. Vice Rector Mark Kington, an Alexandria businessman who was a key player in Sullivan’s ouster, stepped down yesterday.
Many in Charlottesville see Zeithaml’s selection as an attempt by the board to restore a sense of stability after a week of tumult. His term as interim president is slated to begin Aug. 16. Zeithaml, who is married and lives in Charlottesville, was traveling Tuesday and not available for comment. In a university news release, he said, “I realize that it is a very difficult time for many people within our community, but I look forward to working with our faculty, students, staff, alumni and University leaders to move U.-Va. forward.”
Zeithaml’s most recent feat of financial engineering was persuading the administration to charge McIntire students a few thousand dollars a year more, a practice known as “differential tuition.” The higher cost has not hurt demand. Applications are up, said Jim Travisano, McIntire’s assistant dean of communications.
Zeithaml is known as someone who doesn’t forget a name, and who is good at getting people to work together. Sharpe said in her encounters with him, he has been open and willing to share strengths and weaknesses of programs, a quality she said has likely helped him hold the same job for so long.
Being dean of a undergraduate business program, Sharpe said, “is very stressful, very hard, and very political.”
“He is a very savvy strategist,” said McIntire senior associate dean Richard Netemeyer.
Prior to his appointment yesterday, Zeithaml had never expressed interest in the job of U-Va. president, colleagues said, nor has he said he wants the job permanently.
It is unclear how many contenders there were for interim president. The board spoke with Edward Miller, the dean and chief executive of the medical faculty at Johns Hopkins, according to the Baltimore Sun. It appointed Zeithaml after 11 hours of closed-door meetings. He won the vote of every member but one, Heywood Fralin, who said in a statement released Tuesday that his vote had ”nothing to do with my opinion of Carl Zeithaml’s leadership abilities.”
Having served on two search committees with Zeithaml, Fralin said he regards him as “an extraordinary and capable leader,” and that his vote was an indication of his “dissatisfaction with the process and the decision that lead to the resignation of Terry Sullivan.”
Zeithaml came to U-Va. after 11 years at the Kenan-Flagler Business School of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Notre Dame, and holds degrees from the University of Maryland and the University of Florida.