Karl A. Hill became the dean of Washington University’s business school in a year best remembered for sit-ins, Vietnam War protests, hippies, and the election of Richard Nixon. Hill had been a faculty member of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth for 22 years, half of that time as dean. In fact, he was a Dartmouth man through and through—graduating from the school in 1938 and earning an MBA in industrial management from the Tuck School the following year. A native of Littleton, New Hampshire, Hill worked in the electrical industry before returning to his alma mater in 1946 to teach.
“For 10 years, one of the nation’s leading graduate business schools has grown and witnessed innovation with Karl Hill as its dean,” Chancellor Thomas H. Eliot announced in 1968. “His acceptance of our offer makes me confident of our school’s continued academic growth and renewed interaction with the community.”
Hill served as the business school dean from 1968 to 1976. In a September 1968 profile, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the business school had a 25-member faculty and enrollment “of about 370.” Due to the Vietnam War draft and increasing anti-establishment sentiment prevalent among young adults, business school enrollment was down across the country. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch also reported an expected 30 percent decrease in WashU’s graduate business enrollment that year due to the elimination of draft deferments.
Dean Hill’s response to the social movements and upheaval in the late 1960s was to focus on strong research and forging good relationships with the local business community by inviting business leaders to the school for casual interactions with students. “Changes in the business school must be rapid,” Hill told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “because the world around the business school is changing rapidly.”
In 1973, after unsuccessful attempts by earlier deans, Hill succeeded in reinstating a four-year undergraduate curriculum in business. From 1960 to 1967, the business school offered a four-year undergraduate program, but changed it to reflect the university’s model of a two-year foundation in liberal arts followed by two years of business coursework. The change back to a four-year business program brought a surge in enrollment: in the spring of 1974, undergraduate enrollment doubled from 70 students to 140 at the business school.
Dean Karl Hill told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1974 that until recently, “There has been an appalling ignorance on the part of our society concerning the role of business. There has been no appreciation of the elements of risk and complexity, but rather a stereotype of the businessman sitting in an office, turning a crank, and having gold coins come out.”
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Enrollments Increase in Business Schools,” April 12, 1974
During his tenure as dean of WashU’s business school, Hill advocated for the value of an MBA in new fields, such as nonprofit organizations.
In 1974, Hill told the St. Louis Post-Disptach that the demand for undergraduate and graduate business degrees was on the rise because of a “growing understanding that most organizations are businesses even though they are not motivated by the profit motive. The MBA curriculum base is [also] coming to be considered valuable to a large range of fields not related to business.” Highlights of Hill’s tenure as dean included the initiation of joint graduate degrees with the law, engineering, architecture, and social work schools.
In February 1975, Dean Hill announced his plan to retire by age 62. Hill said his retirement would become effective when a successor was named, according to The Record. “Because of affirmative action and other requirements, one to two years may be required for the search and decision process. During this period, we will carry forward our present efforts to improve all phases of the school’s work,” Hill said. Professor John Towle served as interim dean between Hill and the appointment of Robert L. Virgil in 1977.
“[Chancellor] Danforth said that [Dean] Hill’s accomplishments include curricula reform, establishment of a sound faculty research and development program, improved relations with the business community, and improved effectiveness and service to students.”
The Record, February 13, 1975
Karl Hill died in 1983, at the age of 68, at his home in Kennebunk, Maine. Hill held an honorary Doctor of Law degree from Drury College and was a member of the board of directors of several corporations and the St. Louis Interracial Council for Business Opportunity.
Sources: Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, Public Affairs archives, WUSTL Special Collections, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and The History of Washington University by Ralph MorrowRead more stories