CORVALLIS - After a decade of leading Oregon State University's College of Business, Donald F. Parker is leaving the post of dean to devote more time to research and teaching.
Parker, who joined the university in 1991 as the Sara Hart Kimball Dean of Business, will spend a year's sabbatical researching university and business management issues before returning to the classroom at OSU. A search to replace Parker is under way; Sabah Randhawa is serving as interim dean.
Parker will spend much of the upcoming 12 months in researching the changing nature of human resource management with the advent of multi-national corporations. "I'll return to the university in fall 2002 to teach an introductory course in organizational behavior," he said.
Parker arrived at OSU from the University of Wyoming, where he spent six years as dean of the College of Business. He has also taught at the Naval War College at Newport, R.I. and the University of Michigan.
Throughout his tenure at OSU, Parker has led the College of Business through a number of challenges, including budget cuts and faculty shifts, as well as reaccreditation of the college by the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business.
"The single most important occurrence was the reaffirmation of our business and accounting accreditations in 1999 by the AACSB, the premier international accrediting body," he said. "Accreditation is how we measure the quality of the education we deliver to students, the achievement of the college mission and the degree to which continuous improvement has become a part of everyday life.
"It's very difficult to make improvements in education and very easy to let programs slide. Our reaccreditation reflects the tremendous strides we have made in the College of Business," Parker said.
Throughout his years at OSU, Parker said students have remained a top priority.
"The most satisfying aspect of this position has been the opportunity to affect students' lives positively. One of the principles I have followed in this job is to ask myself, 'what is best for the students?' If I follow that philosophy, I can't go wrong.
"I believe a strong, solid, fundamental education is what is necessary. Students should have exposure to a variety of subjects and ideas, and a good fundamental education is the way to best help students prepare for a career."
While serving as dean, Parker found time to offer guidance to students in and out of the classroom and is convinced most students need help in sorting educational and career options.
"What I feel best about personally are the occasions on which I have had the opportunity to influence the lives of individual students, one at a time, whether it involves helping them with a perplexing career problem or some other aspect of their preparation for life."
Parker says he admires students who make it through college with top grades and no detours, yet he also realizes that students facing academic problems usually need help to get back on track. Sometimes that means a student may take more than the traditional four years to complete their academic program.
"A student can certainly graduate from our College of Business in four years, but I think a great number of students enter a university not really knowing what they want to do with their lives," Parker said. "The average American college student has three different majors, so most students find themselves in that position. That's why I urge students to go to a full-service university - a place like OSU that gives them the opportunity to make changes. I don't want to knock a solely liberal arts college, but on balance, I believe a student is better off going to an institution with more options."
A prime mission of a university and its educators is to help students explore those options and to help forge the tools students need for success, he said.
"If I can help a student move forward to a new level of success, I don't care if that success happens in the College of Business, the College of Health and Human Performance or the College of Engineering. I don't earn a commission for each student who graduates from the College of Business. I want students to major in whatever field is the best field for them."
With current higher education funding patterns, Parker sees both students and institutions becoming more reliant on private sources of income. During his tenure, Parker noted there has been a substantial expansion of student scholarships, increased faculty development support, and significant academic innovations made possible by private gifts, including a $6.1 million stock gift in 1997 from OSU alumnus Bernie Newcomb. A 1965 OSU honors graduate, Newcomb fashioned a career as a pioneer in computer systems development, eventually helping form the E-Trade Group, one of the nation's first Internet stock trading companies.
"We are putting the finishing touches on the Newcomb Internship Program through which countless College of Business students will, for years to come, engage in rewarding learning and working experiences to enhance their readiness for successful careers," Parker said.
Another important milestone in the past decade was the redesign of the college's master's of business administration program, which has incorporated significant curricular innovations that emphasize the role of technology in business. The program will enroll its first students in September.
Before entering higher education, Parker spent 24 years in the U.S. Navy. He was promoted to captain in 1978 and became commanding officer and chief executive of the Navy Personnel Research and Development Center in San Diego.
"Higher education is a second career for me," Parker pointed out. "And it has been very satisfying, giving me the opportunity to help many students along the way."