Former Jones School dean Gil Whitaker dies at age 75

CONTACT: B.J. Almond
PHONE: (713) 348-6770

Former Jones School dean Gil Whitaker dies at age 75
Reception to remember Whitaker will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at Jones School

Rice alum Gilbert Whitaker Jr. ’53, who served as dean of Rice
University’s Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Management for eight
years, died June 21 after a long illness.  He was 75.


“Rice has had no more loyal graduate and visionary leader than Gil Whitaker,” President David Leebron said. “When you look at the stunning building that houses the Jones School of Management, you see just one manifestation of the impact Gil Whitaker had on the business school and Rice. His influence is also reflected in the quality of the faculty, in the growth of our MBA programs and in the school’s first accreditation during his tenure. Gil breathed new life into the Jones School and made it the pride not only of Rice but of Houston. Beyond those great contributions, he was a valued counselor to me, the Rice Board of Trustees and academic leaders across our campus and beyond.”

Whitaker joined the Rice administration in 1997 after serving as dean and professor of business economics at the University of Michigan (U-M) School of Business Administration for 11 years and then as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at U-M, where he oversaw construction of new buildings and an upgrade of the curriculum and faculty.

During Whitaker’s tenure as dean, the Jones School became fully accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). Whitaker oversaw establishment of the MBA for Executives program, and through his aggressive recruiting efforts, faculty recruitment and student enrollment increased in both the full-time MBA and the MBA for Executives programs.

Whitaker was the driving force behind the conception, design, funding and building of the 167,000-square-foot award-winning Janice and Robert McNair Hall in which the Jones School is now housed. In 1998, he and his wife, Rice alumna Ruth Tonn Whitaker ’68, pledged $100,000 toward the new building to demonstrate their commitment to the future of Rice’s graduate program

He set his sights on making the Jones School one of the nation’s top graduate business schools, and in 2002 the Economist magazine ranked the Jones School’s finance program No. 1 among U.S. business schools. The Jones School’s marketing program tied for eighth in the world and was ranked second in the U.S. That same year, the Financial Times placed the Jones School as the highest-ranked business school in Texas and the region.

In 2001, Time magazine recognized Whitaker’s accomplishments in promoting diversity. Whitaker also revised the MBA curriculum to put more emphasis on experiential learning.

In addition to his role as dean, Whitaker served as the H. Joe Nelson III Professor of Business Economics. His research interests included the cost-effective use of technology in teaching and corporate governance.  His academic specialty was managerial economics, and “Business Economics: Principles and Cases,” which he coauthored, was a leading textbook for more than 20 years.

Before his retirement from Rice 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 AACSB, and as a board member of the Consortium of Graduate Study in Management and the Forum for the Future of Higher Education.

He served as senior adviser to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and as a director on the boards of the Alley Theatre, Westlake Chemical Corp., Lincoln National Corp. and Johnson Controls, among others.

In addition to a bachelor’s degree in economics from Rice, Whitaker had an M.S. and a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Wisconsin. Rice honored him as a distinguished alumnus in 1989, and the University of Michigan awarded him a president’s medallion in 1995.

Whitaker 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.

A native of Oklahoma, Whitaker began his teaching career in 1960 as a professor of economics at Northwestern University. From there 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 before joining the faculty at the University of Michigan.

Whitaker’s philosophy was best reflected in this quote from Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu: “But of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, ‘We did this ourselves.'”

“Gil Whitaker transformed the Rice MBA by taking a small, young business program and expanding it into a vital educational opportunity that has global impact,” said William Glick, who succeeded Whitaker as dean of the Jones School. “During his tenure, he doubled the student population, the alumni base and the faculty, thus developing thought leaders throughout Houston and far beyond. He launched new educational programs, such as the MBA for Executives, and enhanced executive educational opportunities for both young managers and seasoned executives. He also created the vision for the newly approved undergraduate business minor.

“Gil’s commitment to Rice and the Jones Graduate School has heightened the quality of leadership, instilled ethical business practices, and nurtured the entrepreneurial spirit throughout the business community,” Glick said. “He was a valued adviser and I am deeply grateful for the guidance he provided me and to the many people he influenced at Rice and throughout the world.”

Whitaker is survived by his wife of 53 years, their three children and five grandchildren and a sister.

A reception to remember Whitaker will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 24, in the Anderson Commons at the Jones School.

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.

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