During nearly two decades at the University of North Dakota, Tim O’Keefe helped elevate a business school to the national stage, helping to establish the second school of entrepreneurship in a public university and building an online MBA program that rose to a top-30 national ranking.
Now he’s taking on a new challenge: infusing that same energy and momentum into the business college of a distinctive, historic and mission-driven liberal arts university.
Dr. O’Keefe will become the next dean of the College of Business and Economics this summer, the culmination of a national search that began last fall when former dean Paul Barrett announced he was stepping down to pursue his love of teaching.
“We quickly found in Tim the same philosophy that drives the College of Business and Economics faculty every day,” said Dr. Charles White, Professor of Management and Interim Dean, a member of the search committee. “He has a deep sense of community and responsibility and brings extensive experience not only in enhancing current programs but also in building initiatives from soup to nuts. He’ll be a real asset as the College of Business and Economics grows and expands.”
A North Dakota native, Tim is an information systems expert who has taught at the University of North Dakota since 1999. Before UND, he was a professor at his undergraduate alma mater, Mayville State University, in Mayville, ND—a community, population of about 2,500, he and his wife, Bonnie, have called home for the past 34 years. He holds a Ph.D. in Computer Information Systems and Quantitative Analysis from the University of Arkansas - Fayetteville.
An enthusiastic hiker, bowhunter and weekend woodworker, O’Keefe is eagerly anticipating exploring the Prince Edward countryside with Bonnie and introducing Virginia to their two daughters’ families—Kelsie, her husband Mike and their two daughters, Cecilia (2) and Winnie (1); and Maggie and her husband Eirik—all residents of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Bonnie is a retired 2nd grade teacher who relishes being a grandmother, likes to garden and is an avid quilter who often donates her work to charitable causes.
He has a deep sense of community and responsibility and brings extensive experience not only in enhancing current programs but also in building initiatives from soup to nuts.Dr. Charles White, Professor of Management and Interim Dean, a member of the search committee
We sat down with Tim to talk about his first impressions of Longwood and how he envisions the future of the College of Business and Economics.
What attracted you to Longwood University?
I got an immediate sense that this was the right-sized school to offer a great education, to produce high-quality research, and to still be student-centered. There are elements at Longwood of both my alma mater, Mayville State University, where teaching and student success defines the culture, and the University of North Dakota where there are world-class educational and research programs. Longwood University is the best of both.
What resonates with you about that student-centered approach?
I passionately believe that a university’s primary mission is to put professors and students in the same learning space. I don’t know of a single university where educating students doesn’t consume the lion’s share of institutional capital. It’s foundational to what we do. We need to do it very well or we erode our foundation--a student-centered philosophy recognizes that reality. Every decision, every action in a student-centered environment is guided by the outcomes we strive to achieve for students. The classes we teach must, obviously, serve an educational purpose for our students. The research we conduct, should contribute in some way to our educational mission, as should our service to the university and the community. I believe a student-centered approach recognizes and respects the high financial and opportunity costs students accept to attend Longwood University and it helps to ensure they receive a maximum return on their investment.
Where do you see the trajectory of business schools heading across the country, and where does a place like Longwood fit into the bigger picture?
In the last 10-15 years, there has been a shift toward mission-driven accreditation in business schools across the country. That’s important because, in the past, accreditation tended to be a homogenizing force. Every program pretty much ended up looking the same even though Longwood University is vastly different from UND, which is vastly different from many other institutions. Now colleges and universities are truly embracing the mission-driven philosophy and are starting to ask important questions. What’s unique about us? What impacts have we had? What evidence do we have that we’re achieving our mission? The environment is as good as it’s ever been for an institution like the CBE (College of Business and Economics) at Longwood University. We are encouraged to innovatively and creatively differentiate our programs and research, which if done well, will allow us to grow, even thrive, in a highly competitive educational marketplace.
The moment I set foot on this campus I could feel a positive energy, a collective sense of community and responsibility.Dr. Tim O’Keefe, dean of the College of Business and Economics
What strikes you as being different about Longwood?
After carefully ensuring you don’t step on the Longwood symbol on the sidewalk, and you do step on the crown, you walk into the library and see the phrase, “We will not lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate those who do.” People here proudly embrace that ideal. In the CBE, I love the Citizen 7 values. It’s wonderful that those principles are defined, and that our students and faculty strive to live by them. The moment I set foot on this campus I could feel a positive energy, a collective sense of community and responsibility. Everyone I talked to in Farmville is proud of this community and this university. They are proud of their history and their traditions. I’m proud to soon be a small part of it.
Have you already identified some strategic priorities for your first year on campus?
First and foremost, it is certainly not my intention to immediately start making big changes in the CBE. The administration, faculty and staff have developed excellent programs which they deliver incredibly well. The quality of their work, the level of care in their work, and the pride they take in their work are evident and impressive. My initial task will be to listen--to learn as much as I can possibly absorb about the history of Longwood University and the CBE, its faculty, staff and students. Those fine people know what we need to do to continuously improve. If I listen, they will tell me.
A major part of my focus will be on financial development. I think one of the most important things we can do in the next several years is to increase the size of the CBE endowment by several orders of magnitude so that we can offer more scholarships and fund more faculty development. At the most fundamental level, offering a great education takes two things: great students and great faculty. A significantly increased endowment will give us the financial flexibility we need to attract, to retain and to support the highest quality students and faculty.
Anything you would like to share in conclusion?
Bonnie and I are excited to be moving to Farmville. We truly believe that, although possessions can make a person rich, only family and friends make a life rich. The people we meet and the friends we make in our new community will greatly enrich our lives and hopefully we will enrich others’. We look forward to meeting you.