Associate Dean Madhu Rao reflects on his 20+ year tenure at Albers.

The Albers Brief caught up with Albers Associate Dean Madhu Rao, who will be moving to Colorado. In January, he starts his new role as Academic Dean at Regis University's Anderson College of Business and Computing.

How did you find yourself at Albers?

I had been working in the University of Maryland system after my PhD when my then-partner got an offer from a big-time tech start up in Seattle in 2001. This was at the height of the dotcom boom, and I figured I’d be
able to retire by the age of 38 and spend the rest of my life on my yacht, traveling between Bali and Bora Bora. Plus, my brother was working for Microsoft, so it made sense to consolidate the siblings in one place. The startup went bust after a year.

Madhu Rao teaching a class in 2011.Fortunately, Albers had a position open, and I was lucky to land it. My first day at SU was September 11, 2001, a day that is difficult to forget.

What changes have you seen throughout the two decades that you've been here?

Pretty much everything other than the underlying mission of cura personalis and social justice. New building, new faculty members, new global relationships, new University President. The only constant of course is Joe Phillips, the Dean, who started on the same day as me.

It is comforting to know that, despite all the social, economic, technological, and environmental changes we’ve seen over the past 20 years, Seattle U’s commitment to developing leaders for the common good has remained unchanged.

I learned to address thorny or uncomfortable issues immediately and heads-on.

Madhu Rao Associate Dean, Albers School of Business and Economics

Advice for your successor?

I don’t want to sound like I know how the next person in my role should operate. I’ll avoid giving unsolicited advice. All I can offer are some of the lessons I learned in seven years as Associate Dean:

  1. I learned to address thorny or uncomfortable issues immediately and head-on. Avoidance behavior is deadly in this role. Small problems quickly blossom and grow into
    all-consuming concerns. Madhu Rao in foreground against models of Darth Vader and Storm Troopers
  2. Early on, I made the mistake of filing away certain emails for later, thinking I’d deal with them the next day. They were buried in an inbox avalanche within an hour and I completely forgot about them. So, I tried to answer any questions I could immediately or delegate the issue to someone with the necessary knowledge.
  3. I like to think I have a sense of calm and equanimity. These are traits that have helped me listen with empathy (most of the time) to students, staff, and faculty who are upset or angry over something that has happened to them. But it does take a toll on you when it happens day after day. I was fortunate to have friends who always kept me buoyed and upbeat.
  4. It can be lonely. You move into an office on the third floor and are quarantined from the other faculty. The day after becoming Associate Dean, someone asked me how it was on the “dark side”. They were joking but I do think there is a type of academic “othering” that happens, which can be a little disconcerting. 

I have been fortunate to work with people across campus on significant committees that have had an impact on the way we grow as an institution and educate our students.

Madhu Rao

What are you most proud of, i.e. your legacy?

I don’t really think about legacy. In my mind, the term is framed around the question of “How will I be remembered?” To me, at least, that centers the discussion on the individual rather than the impact of their work.

I prefer to think about my time at Albers and SU in terms of my projects and scholarship which have been meaningful to our students, my colleagues, and our community.

IMadhu on a trip to India with Albers staff’ve enjoyed getting students excited about technology. I’ve loved taking students abroad to countries such
as China, India, Argentina, and Chile and giving them a glimpse into how a huge percentage of the world actually lives and perhaps a better sense of their own privilege.

I have been fortunate to work with people across campus on significant committees that have had an impact
on the way we grow as an institution and educate our students.

Of course, if my name will be remembered after I leave Seattle U, it will be forever linked to two decades of running the Albers March Madness competition. I hope it was seen as a family tradition that brought a sense of camaraderie, fun, and laughter to all those who participated. And a sense of wonder at the fact I have not had my tenure revoked for some of my trash talking along the way.

Madhu doing Redhawk hands

Photo of Madhu teaching an Introduction to Information Systems and E-commerce class in 2011 by Yosef Kalinko. All other photos by Madhu Rao.