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Gilbert Whitaker
  Gil Whitaker

Former Dean Remembered for Leading Business School to National Prominence

6/22/2007 --

Gil Whitaker led the school's efforts to attract minority students and expand the school's facilities throughout the 1980s.

ANN ARBOR, Mich.óGilbert R. Whitaker Jr., former provost at the University of Michigan and former dean of the U-M Business School, died June 21 in Houston after a long illness. He was 75.

Whitaker, who left U-M in 1997 to become dean of Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Management until 2005, was dean of the U-M Business School from 1979 to 1990. He served as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at U-M from 1990 to 1995.

"As dean, Gil led Michigan's business school to national prominence," said Robert Dolan, dean of U-M's Ross School of Business. "He doubled the size of the faculty, spearheaded the school's efforts to attract outstanding minority students and expanded the school's facilities, overseeing construction of the Executive Residence and Kresge Library. It's no stretch to say that much of the intellectual and physical foundation on which the school stands today was built by Gil Whitaker."

Janet Weiss, dean of U-M's Rackham School of Graduate Studies and professor of business and public policy, echoed Dolan's sentiments.

"Gil was a superb dean, who transformed the business school from a second-tier school to a top-notch research-based school in the first rank," she said. "With focus and determination, he inspired major improvement. We owe him a lot."

During his tenure as U-M provost, Whitaker oversaw the construction of new buildings and an upgrade of academic programs, while leading the university to a more rigorous budget planning process.

Paul Courant, U-M's dean of libraries and professor of economics and public policy, said that during his tenure as U-M provost from 2002 to 2005, he was grateful for the work that Whitaker had done during his time in the same job.

"Gil was a fine man and an excellent provost," he said. "Gil made enormous and lasting contributions both to Michigan and to higher education generally. He was smart and sardonic and funny. He and I had very different political and managerial philosophies, but we were always able to work together and to profit from each other's advice. I will miss him."

Dean Paula Allen-Meares of the U-M School of Social Work said she was deeply saddened by the passing of the man who hired her.

"A man who had grand ideas and the practicality to implement them, Gil was quite often the visionary, always a passionate leader, a beloved teacher and a highly respected mentor," she said. "He was an inspiration to new and young deans, with his interesting and innovative ideas and the conviction and drive to make them reality. Although he enjoyed a short retirement, the academic world still bears the imprint of his service, and will for a long time."

Upon Whitaker's departure from Michigan in 1997, then-President Lee Bollinger noted that the university was losing "one of its most talented and dedicated faculty members."

"I had the pleasure of working with Gil in his roles as dean and provost," Bollinger said. "As dean, he brought national prominence to the Michigan Business School. (And) Gil's strong commitment to strengthening the academic programs of the university was evident during his tenure as provost."

Frank Wilhelme, director of capital giving at the Ross School, says that Whitaker was also very proud of the accomplishments of his wife, Ruth, who was president of the Michigan Faculty Women's Club and Ann Arbor Women's City Club, chair of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, and board member of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation and the Ann Arbor Thrift Shop Association.

"Ruth was a great partner in helping him achieve his goals as dean and provost," Wilhelme said. "Following his retirement from U-M, friends and admirers honored both Gil and Ruth with the establishment of the Gilbert and Ruth Whitaker Endowed Professorship."

In addition to his outstanding leadership, Whitaker also was known for his wry sense of humor, which was aptly depicted in his final speech as provost to the U-M Senate Assembly in May 1995.

"Members of the Senate Assembly, friends, former friends, future friends, enemies, former enemies and future enemies, colleagues and others, I am pleased to be with you this afternoon in my last formal appearance as a member of the University Central Administration. At the end of August, I will drop all additional titles and relish once again having the only university title that I aspired to when I first joined the Northwestern faculty in 1960---professor."

Whitaker was a professor of business economics and his research interests included the cost-effective use of technology in teaching and corporate governance. His area of expertise was managerial economics, and "Business Economics: Principles and Cases," which he co-wrote, was a leading textbook for more than 20 years.

Whitaker began his teaching career in 1960 as an associate professor of business economics at Northwestern University. In 1967, he went to Washington University in St. Louis, where he became associate dean and professor of business economics at the Graduate School of Business Administration. He then served as dean and professor of business economics at the M.J. Neeley School of Business at Texas Christian University from 1976 to 1978, before coming to Michigan and later, Rice.

While at Rice, Whitaker was the driving force behind the conception, design, funding and building of McNair Hall in which the Jones School is now housed. In 1998, he and his wife, Ruth, pledged $100,000 toward the new building to demonstrate their commitment to the future of Rice's graduate business program.

Before his retirement in 2005, Whitaker led a number of professional organizations in management education. He served as chairman of the Graduate Management Admissions Council, as president of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, and as a board member of the Consortium of Graduate Study in Management and the Forum for the Future of Higher Education.

A native of Oklahoma, Whitaker received a bachelor's degree in economics from Rice in 1953 and a master's and doctorate in economics from the University of Wisconsin in 1958 and 1961, respectively. He also was a member of the Navy ROTC and upon graduation from Rice, was commissioned an ensign and assigned to the U.S.S. Isherwood destroyer, serving in both the Mediterranean and Pacific.

Whitaker is survived by his wife of 53 years, Ruth, and their three children: Kate of Ann Arbor; David of Oviedo, Fla.; and Thomas (Susan) of Ann Arbor; and also by his sister, Michael Whitaker Arike of Mamaroneck, N.Y. He also leaves five grandchildren: Rachelle, Meaghan, Emma, Gus and Andrew.

In lieu of flowers, the Whitaker family requests that friends and colleagues make a donation to a charity of their choice or the Ruth and Gilbert Whitaker Endowed Scholarship Fund at the Jones School, MS 531, Rice University, P.O. Box 1892, Houston, TX 77251.

For more information, contact:
Bernie DeGroat
Phone: (734) 936-1015 or 647-1847