For the first time in its 139-year history, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, the top-ranked business school in the country, will have a black woman serve as its dean.
Erika James, who has led Emory’s Goizueta School of Business since 2016, was named the school’s next dean, making her the first woman and the first African American to head the elite program, the Wall Street Journal reports.
In a statement announcing James’ appointment, University of Pennsylvania Provost Wendell Pritchett called James “a passionate and visible champion of the power of business and business education to positively transform communities locally, nationally, and globally.”
“She is exceptionally well-prepared to lead Wharton into the next exciting chapter of its storied history,” Pritchett continued.
James will take over the role from Geoffrey Garret, who will become dean of the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, on July 1. As the Journal notes, James is taking over the program at a time when applications to business schools have dropped for five straight years. The Journal cites a hot job market as one of the reasons prospective MBAs are reluctant to take off time to pursue further education, but lower barriers to entry for entrepreneurship (thanks to social media) and soaring student debt obligations may also play a role.
James’ accomplishments at Emory hold some clue to what she’ll bring to Wharton. According to the Journal, she led efforts to build an innovation and entrepreneurship lab that all students on campus could access, grew the business school’s faculty by 25 percent, and drove student and faculty workshops on unconscious bias and building trust across divides.
James told the Daily Pennsylvanian her long-term goal is to leave Wharton School a better school than when she first arrives on the job.
“It’s had incredible leadership over the years, so that will be a tall task,” she said. “As the environment changes, there will be new opportunities to experiment in business education, and I look forward to being able to work with the faculty, staff, and students there on what that might look like.”