Smeal Dean James Thomas to step down, return to faculty

University Park, Pa. -- Citing a desire to return to teaching and research after 11 years as the leader of two colleges at Penn State, James B. Thomas will resign from his position as the John and Becky Surma Dean of the Smeal College of Business effective upon the naming of a replacement. Thomas, who has served as Smeal dean since 2006, will return to the college faculty as a professor.

"Jim Thomas has been an outstanding dean and will leave very big shoes to fill," said Rod Erickson, executive vice president and provost at Penn State. "He is a real visionary who has been a transformative leader, able to inspire and engage students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the University to reach for even greater achievements."

Under Thomas' leadership, Smeal implemented a new strategic plan that focused the college's resources on one overarching goal: solidifying its position as one of the top public business schools in the nation. With an emphasis on four major themes -- delivering extraordinary education, conducting research with impact, building a dialogue with society and fostering a community with distinction -- Thomas' strategic vision included dozens of new initiatives and objectives to advance the college on several levels.

As part of this vision, Thomas led curricula restructurings in Smeal's undergraduate and MBA programs. He oversaw the addition of the Master of Professional Studies in Supply Chain Management and the Master of Accounting degree programs. And he directed a reorganization of the college's administration.

"It's been a great pleasure the past five years to lead such a talented faculty and staff in our collective efforts to advance business education and research at Penn State," said Thomas. "I look forward to serving the college in new ways and watching our continual growth from my position on the faculty."

A mainstay of Thomas' tenure as dean has been his focus on promoting academic integrity. After getting its start in the Smeal MBA Program, Thomas shepherded the implementation of the Smeal Honor Code across all of the college's degree programs. He also worked with Smeal students and faculty to foster a culture of integrity as chair of Smeal's Academic Integrity Board.

Another focus for Thomas has been the expansion of the college's international programs and the growth of its global presence. He directed the opening of Smeal's Office of International Programs, which integrated all of the college's study abroad efforts and resources for international students under one umbrella for the first time. He traveled to Eastern Europe, India, and Saudi Arabia, forging new global relationships with foreign corporations, NGOs, governments, and universities. Thomas also helped to orchestrate the signing of a memorandum of understanding with Peking University in China centered on exchanges of students and faculty.

Thomas led Smeal through the first half of the University's $2 billion fundraising campaign, For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students. Under his deanship, the college raised almost $46 million from private donors, corporations and foundations.

He oversaw the hiring of 20 net new Smeal faculty members, growing the college's overall faculty from 119 in 2006 to 139 this year.

Before becoming dean of Smeal in 2006, Thomas was the founding dean of Penn State's College of Information Sciences and Technology. In that role he oversaw the college's initial growth and development as well as construction of the landmark IST Building at University Park.

Thomas began his career in higher education at Smeal in 1987, starting as an assistant professor and eventually advancing to the position of senior associate dean.

He is the author or coauthor of more than 100 articles, book chapters, reviews and numerous presentations focusing on strategic management, organizational decision-making and information technology. His work has appeared in Administration Science Quarterly, Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management Review, Organization Science, and Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, among other top journals. Thomas also has received several research grants, including support to study "Industry Structure and the Role of Information Technology" and "Strategic Alignment."

Before joining academia, Thomas served as director responsible for information technology strategic planning for the Office of the Texas Secretary of State and as the director responsible for information management systems for the Florida Department of State. He is a frequent speaker on education policy and programs and has appeared before the U.S. Congress and Pennsylvania General Assembly.

A 1974 graduate of Penn State with a bachelor's degree in political science, Thomas received a master's degree in government from Florida State University and a doctorate in strategic management from the University of Texas at Austin.

A committee will be named shortly by the University provost to conduct a national search to find a replacement for Thomas.

Last Updated June 22, 2011