Q&A: Gupta Dean J. Lee Whittington

The Boardroom

Longtime business professor J. Lee Whittington, PhD, recently assumed the role of dean of the Satish and Yasmin Gupta College of Business. Whittington sat down with Tower to discuss how he got hooked on the University of Dallas and what makes UD’s business education different.

You’ve been with the University of Dallas for more than 20 years. What’s made you stick around?

I remember when I came over from Texas Wesleyan University. I loved it at Texas Wesleyan, and I almost didn’t come for the interview here because I liked it over there. … But when I came, [Paula] Ann Hughes was the dean at the time, and she was very innovative. Very entrepreneurial. You know, very much a “the answer’s yes — what’s the question?” kind of person. After that interview, I left thinking, “If I don’t get a chance to go to UD, I’m going to be really disappointed.”

You know, I’m not one of those people who wants to teach three sections of the same class every semester. I want to teach a variety of things, and I want to change it up. So, that entrepreneurial spirit was really good.

The other thing was the collegiality of the faculty. At other schools, it can be pretty vicious. Having taught at other places, I realize this is different. So I think it was the freedom to create new things, and then the collegiality and the support.

I always wanted to teach and do consulting. It’s a wonderful life. I love what I do and feel like I’m using the gifts that God gave me and I can make a difference. And I get the impression that a lot of professors here have a similar attitude; I think we feel called.

What’s different about a business education at UD?

I’m really proud to say that undergraduate business students take the entire Core, but they actually take more theology, because they have to take Social Justice, and they take more philosophy, because they take Business Ethics.

We’re really proud of that. Brian Murray really championed that. Then we got the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accreditation, and we’d said all along that once we got AACSB, we would start a doctorate of business administration (DBA) program. We were the first AACSB-accredited DBA program in Texas.

Of course, now we get a lot of imitators. We have a history of being the first mover. You know, when Bob Lynch created the Graduate School of Management in 1966, we were the first one of the early schools that created what we now call a professional MBA, where people work full-time and go to school part-time. That wasn’t the model back then. We have a long history of being rule breakers.

We just had our reaccreditation review last fall. The deans from other schools come and review us. In their final report, one of the things they lifted up was our commitment to ethics. We don’t just have an ethics course at every degree; if you’re studying operations or supply chains, or taking a leadership course, or taking a marketing course, we’re going to talk about the ethical dimensions of that topic in that class. It’s not just one course that’s tacked on at the end.

In your own words, why should faith and ethics matter to the business world?

Our character is what makes us worth following as a leader. And cultivating character, cultivating virtuous leadership — to me, as a Christ follower, I think that my work matters to God as an act of worship. Well, golly, if I’m doing it for God, I better do it with integrity. I better do it with character.

I use the world “cultivate” intentionally as an agricultural metaphor. You think about whether you’re planting flowers in your backyard or growing cotton in West Texas, you prepare the soil, you plant the seeds, you water and fertilize and nurture, and there’s growth going on before you can ever see it.

Sometimes, as a teacher, you don’t ever see the end result. But you still do it because it’s the right thing to do.