In 1922, when the first students, on the first day of classes, walked in Villanova School of BusinessThey all looked remarkably alike: almost all were white, Catholic men.
One hundred years later, the makeup of students arriving on campus is vastly different: About 54% of them are women and more than 26% are students of color. They come from all socio-economic backgrounds, castes and creeds.
Today (August 24), the Villanova School of Business is celebrating its 100th Commencement, welcoming nearly 1,700 undergraduates and 1,000 graduate students back to school with food trucks, swag, and notable guest speakers. The celebrations will gather around the newly renovated Bartley Hall, the heart of the Business School, the school’s first Dean: Rev. Joseph Bartley, who served 40 years. This is the official kick off to a year of events scheduled for VSB’s 100th anniversary, which highlights how the school has changed over the course of a century. (View a timeline of school milestones here.)
More women, more people of color
When the nearly all-white, all-male, all-Catholic classes enrolled in the new Division of Commerce and Finance (as the VSB was called), it was not remarkable for time or place. Villanova College, founded in 1842, was named for its patron saint, St. Thomas of Villanova, and was founded on Augustinian values to serve Catholic students. Many universities and business schools at the time did not allow women to enroll.
Forty-six years after its founding, in 1968, Villanova’s business opened applications to women. In 1972, four of them graduated, becoming the first female alumni in the school’s history.
It now has its first female dean: Joyce EA Russell joined VSB on August 1, 2016, after serving as an associate and vice president at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland-College Park. This is his seventh year leading the school.
“When I first came, there were very few endowed professors or chairs who were women. We had a small percentage of female faculty, a small percentage of female students. So we’ve made really concerted efforts to get more women into business schools and students of color,” she says. Kavi and Matra.
In academia, women are often stuck as associate professors, Russell notes, and there is ample evidence that women avoid applying for leadership positions unless they believe they are the perfect match for the job.
“I’ve had a lot of women on my leadership team who had never been a leader before, so I think the school has definitely changed in that regard. We’ve really tried to say, ‘What are we doing to help you promote yourself?’ , and encourage them to be named if they are eligible.”
A milestone of 100 years
Looking back on its first century, the Villanova School of Business believes it has much to celebrate — not the least of which is the leadership of Dean Russell, who is implementing its five-year strategic plan in 2020.
Among its recent milestones:
- Its creation Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion In 2018 and appointment of marketing and law professor Aronte Bennett in 2021 as Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The school has hired 49 faculty with an emphasis on women and underrepresented groups.
- A graduate job placement rate of 98.9%, a 25% average salary increase for MBA students, and an alumni network of 31,550.
- A refashioned part-time MBA program starting this fall, offering more flexibility as well as a modern curriculum.
- More than $40 million has been raised to support faculty research, DEI programming, scholarships for students, and building improvements.
Over the past decade, VSB has secured a $50 million gift, the largest ever for Villanova University, according to the James C. from Davis ’81, and many other multi-million dollar gifts from alumni and supporters. It established the first Center for Church Management in business school, and it created a Master of Science in Church Management. It also added new centers for commercial real estate, global leadership, professional development, several new degree programs, and financial markets.
Kavi and Matra Joins Dean Russell to talk about women in leadership, 100 years of milestones, and what’s next for the Villanova School of Business. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
In your opinion, what is the significance of the Villanova School of Business being led by the first female dean?
You know, I get asked this question a lot. I’ve been in charge of many different organizations where I’ve worked with women in leadership roles, and we talk about this: It’s not like you take a job for a reason. You definitely don’t think about it, honestly.
But I think about it when alumni come back and say, “You know, I wasn’t involved in the school before, but now that you’re leading it, I’m involved.” Or female students and prospective students who go anywhere say, “I’ve really noticed that there are a lot of female faculty here and there are a lot of female leaders.” I don’t mean to back myself, it’s just that they are excited about women in leadership positions. I understand that this may not be what I think, but I feel that it is a responsibility. I always tell my daughter that as a woman, you have to take responsibility seriously and you have to understand that it affects other people. It would be very easy not to be the first, but I think it’s important that people see other people like them in leadership positions.
Beyond just visibility, why are leadership positions important to women and other underrepresented groups?
I think they can affect business and society. If you think about the problems faced by employees, you think about childcare problems, and the myriad responsibilities that women still assume in the family. I was having a fireside chat with a female CEO, and she said that one thing that was very important to her, you know, she leaves during the day to go watch her kids’ soccer games. She told people, “I’m going to do it.” She let them know it was okay to live.
I think having a woman in a leadership role shows an appreciation for some of the work-life issues that people sometimes experience. I think one of the issues facing our employees today, especially with the pandemic, is related to their work-life balance, and you have to have people in leadership roles who understand those issues.
It’s not just about looking up role models. It’s about understanding the problems our employees are facing and then influencing the rules in organizations to accommodate people. It’s about saying your whole world isn’t just your job. We value the other things you bring to the table. We value the fact that you have families, and you want to see those families, or you have hobbies or pastimes. Leaders who appreciate that the organization may need to have flex hours or flex days. These are real problems that people are facing.
I teach negotiation, and I think knowing that women don’t negotiate, it affects my behavior. I want to make sure that the women I hire to faculty or staff are paid fairly, even if they don’t negotiate for themselves. I think if you have a lot of appreciation for, you know, harassment, bullying, discrimination, tokenism, all those kinds of things, then you’re trying to create workplaces where those things don’t exist.
Next page: 100 years of VSB’s milestone