Note from the Editorial Board: Back in December 2019 the then incoming (now co-Dean) of the Faculty of Management, Kim Brooks, sat down with the Dalhousie Business Review and answered some of our most pressing and requested questions. The conversation was long, fruitful, informative, and long. The conversation lasted almost an hour, with countless follow-ups to the already lengthy list of questions we had. Kim was kind enough to stay as long as it took, and we are grateful for her openness and candor. These are what we thought were the most important parts of the conversation.
The first part of the interview revolved around Kim and her background, starting from her experience in law school and how that helped shape her career
KIM BROOKS: One of the things I loved about law school was all of the human stories of it. You read all these cases about real people and things that have happened to them, and the most compelling cases are usually in the family law or criminal law context where people’s lives are really involved. I could also see how that could be really hard work to do, being at the edge of people’s most intense life moments required a certain ability to distance yourself from others that I did not have. The other course in law school that I loved was tax, and I know that sounds so strange, but it was this perfect mix of policy and practical applied problem solving.
After working for a few years at Stikeman Elliot LLP, she got a call from Queen’s University and they were looking for someone who would teach tax. She later moved around teaching at UBC, McGill, and then finally the deanship for the Faculty of Law at Dalhousie. She wrapped up this answer by briefly noting the advantages of the private sector and what the public sector might be able to learn from the private sector
KIM BROOKS: I have moments where I walk into private sector environments where I think there’s actually something fun and quite liberating in an odd way about the riskiness if I can put it that way, that some of those environments enable, that public sector environments don’t so readily enable. And university environments are sort of, of the same sort. University administrations are clunky, there’s lots of administration that layers over things, everything moves slow. There are good pieces of that but sometimes it’s more fun to be places where people are like, just do it. Let’s just try that, yes there’s risks we see them here they are, but let’s take a shot at it.
EDITORIAL BOARD: You’ve been praised for how you’ve turned around the law school; how would you describe yourself?
KIM BROOKS: I learned a lot from doing a deanship. I learned that I don’t love being the front facing person, that’s my least favorite part of those dean roles. The most fun part of the job is someone has an idea, and they don’t have the right levers to pull to make it happen. I can do that; I can move those parts and you can do this cool thing. I like when people come in and you have a problem and we think about how to get from A to B. I think most things are possible, that’s my attitude. If someone is passionate and excited about an idea and its progressing the institution, as the dean you have the chance to move things out of the way, that’s actually pretty magical it’s a fun part of the job.
After that answer, we couldn’t help but ask Kim if she actually likes governance
KIM BROOKS: Yeah, I do. I really like governance. When the governance piece is good, you rarely attend to it. The challenge of governance for me is getting it out of the way, getting it sorted out, and then getting it out of the way. The goal with governance is to make it invisible.
The next part of the interview related to the structural challenges at the Faculty of Management and the Rowe School of Business more specifically:
EDITORIAL BOARD: The law school is very streamlined with only one school, what is your approach to managing a faculty with 4 different schools and competing (often not aligned) interests?
KIM BROOKS: The four school’s factor is new for me, I’m going to have to do some learning from other faculties. One of the early things I’ll do is see how other faculties have handled some diffusion of interests within faculties. You have to figure out if there’s a deeper story that aligns the interests of those schools and if there isn’t, you have to think about what to do about that. And not be afraid to say maybe there isn’t a narrative, maybe we haven’t quite hit on the narrative yet, maybe we haven’t quite figured out what keeps us together and keeps us coherent, and once we figure that out there will for sure have to be governance things that happen to make sure that story makes sense. To me, from an outside perspective, and I don’t have the grounding yet to say this definitively, but there are certainly ways in which the schools are structured that doesn’t encourage connections at points you might expect. There seems to be strikingly little that we do together as a faculty.
When asked about the potential of the schools splitting, Kim said
KIM BROOKS: If there aren’t natural synergies let’s just liberate people to be in conversation with other people on campus that make more sense to them.
EDITORIAL BOARD: What do you plan on doing to address the deterioration of the program we have been experiencing (at the Rowe School of Business)?
KIM BROOKS: There will inevitably be changes to what the program looks like. I think running a second-best version of ourselves is something that all of us should displace. I think Queen’s and Western should look over here and be like, what! We need to know what’s going on over there because we don’t want to be behind that. I think we need to have the conversation about what is the ideal kind of education and research environment that we want created here that feeds something that’s forward looking.
EDITORIAL BOARD: What is your stance on the quality of professors? Should high-quality teachers be prioritized regardless of tenure?
KIM BROOKS: You want the right balance. You want to have an outstanding educational environment for students, which means having the best teachers in the classroom that you can possibly find. That also meets the research demands of both your accreditation process plus your role and function in the university as a driver of new knowledge. The challenge is getting that mix lined up appropriately against the budgetary needs of the faculty.
EDITORIAL BOARD: Ideally, what will this faculty look like in three years? And how do you think about rankings?
KIM BROOKS: I’m hoping within 18 months we’ve resolved the governance question and figured that out. The goal would be to fasten on to a future direction of the faculty that people are excited about (within the first 18 months), and that within the first three years the major plans are moving. Rankings are really important. You don’t want to pretend that people don’t make decisions based on ranking, of course they do. One of your jobs as dean is to get the best faculty and the best students possible.
The final part of the interview revolved around the student experience and elevating EDI (equity, diversity, and inclusion) in a faculty that already struggles with inclusivity:
EDITORIAL BOARD: There’s a feeling amongst students that they have been the sacrificial lamb en lieu of budget problems. How will you make sure students don’t come last?
KIM BROOKS: Having a pretty good feel for the student body as a whole is important. The key thing is understanding the population as a whole. What I’m hearing is one of the key issues for students is the quality of teaching and learning. I will try to take some marching orders on priorities from students in the dean’s office. At the law school, I had regular town halls for the student body at least two times a year, sometimes up to four times a year. The formal structure is not as important as the informal structure, where people can stop me and ask me questions in the hallway. I’m around a lot, I don’t think students have ever said they have problems finding me.
EDITORIAL BOARD: We struggle with being proscriptive and having measurable outcomes of EDI for both students and faculty, do you have a plan for that?
KIM BROOKS: The EDI piece is a foundational piece. You can’t ignore it, it’s not a strategic issue, its a nuts and bolts issue. Is the faculty open to people that should be contributing to it? You have to think about are you implicitly making people feel not welcome. I hope that’s something I’m doing everyday just as a matter of course. I don’t think it’s something that should be ignored. It’s hard for us to change. A culture shift may not be enough if it doesn’t have some articulated aspirations. We need to put goals and objectives into that space, I’m not adverse to being proscriptive, and I’m not opposed to trying to shift cultures as much as possible.