The new dean of the business school at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga didn't go near UTC's College of Business during his first four years on campus.
"As an undergraduate, I never took a business class and I don't think I even came on this side of campus," Robert Dooley said last week during an interview in his third floor office in the historic Fletcher Hall.
But 28 years after he earned his bachelor's degree in religion and philosophy, the 50-year-old UTC graduate returned to his alma mater in July to take charge of the university's 2,300-student business school.
Dr. Dooley succeeds Dr. Richard Casavant, who retired last year after a decade as UTC's business school dean, and interim Business Dean Dr. John Fulmer, who retired from UTC this summer.
Like his predecessors, Dooley said he is eager to support and build ties with the local business community through training, research and staffing assistance.
"As a metropolitan university, we want to be a part of this community and help strengthen our business climate," Dooley said.
Most of the graduates of UTC's business school are likely to be hired by local companies. Others will start local business ventures, which UTC tries to promote through its entrepreneurship program.
Dooley hopes to teach a strategic management course in the spring semester. But most of his work will be in applying his management prowess to help oversee the school's 45 faculty members, the 2,000 undergraduate and 300 graduate students while building ties and raising funds from outside businesses.
"The table has really been set by my predecessors who have built a great school of business," he said. "Our faculty are top researchers being published in top journals, but we have a decidedly more applied focus in what we do at UTC."
From loading dock to lectern
Dooley brings both an academic teaching and private sector business background to his new job.
Dooley's first job out of college was far from the management tasks he has taught about for the past two decades. After pursuing his passion for liberal arts and graduating from UTC in the midst of the 1982-83 recession, Dooley landed a near-minimum-wage job on the loading dock at Crescent Mills, the nation's oldest operating hosiery mill in Niota, Tenn.
"The economy wasn't very good at that time, especially for those with a liberal arts degree," Dooley said.
By 1995, Dooley was working at the Westvaco Consumer Packaging Group in Cleveland, Tenn., where he got interested in business.
"When they would talk about profit, losses and margins, I really didn't understand what they were talking about so I knew I needed some more training," he said.
While Westvaco paid for Dooley to get an MBA from UTC, he developed an interest in academia. At the encouragement of UTC management professor Stephen White, who wrote a paper with Dooley, the future UTC dean entered the doctoral program at UT in Knoxville, where he ultimately earned his doctorate in 1996.
"His study on ethics in my class was so good I told him that we should try to write it up and get it published in an academic journal, which we did," Dr. White said. "He's just a very smart and forward-looking person, and it's going to a great experience for all of us to have him as our boss."
Dooely said publishing that article and studying management convinced hm that "being a professor would be the coolest thing ever."
"You get to be around young people; you get to teach, and you get to do fascinating research and writing," he said. "It's great to be paid to do something you really love."
But for now, he's trying to put his classroom knowledge to work developing the strategy for helping the business school best adapt to the changing business conditions.
"He has a great vision for the UTC College of Business, already one of the strongest programs on campus," UTC Chancellor Roger Brown said in announcing Dooley's appointment this summer.
UTC recently named Michael Jones as associate dean of the business school. The new college leaders say they want to boost distance teaching via the Internet.
"We do relatively little distance learning now, but it's simply demanded by students who are much more tech-saavy today and it's also a way to touch more students with the same amount of resources," Dooley said.
Distance learning and the growth of other business schools have brought more competition to UTC. But Dooley said UTC is the only MBA program among a half dozen operating in Chattanooga that is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
UTC's business school has been recognized among the top 300 business schools by Bloomberg Businessweek and the Princeton Review.
Dooley said he is working to bring an entrepreneurship program for disabled vets to help vets spend a week on campus learning how to launch their business ideas. UTC also is exploring new outreach and executive development training for area businesses.
To expand the school's outreach, Dooley said he expects to spend more time talking with business.
"It's really become the new model for deans that you are part academic officer, but the bigger part of your time is spent externally interacting with the community and trying to raise funds to support the programs and mission of our school," he said. "There are also a lot of ways in which my liberal arts background certainly helps me in my job today."