Building With a Purpose: A Q&A With Dean Rich Lyons

Dean Rich LyonsWhat do you expect the impact of the new North Academic Building to be?

There is a strong reputational case to be made for this new building. Over the past 20 years, our school has experienced a spike in visibility and rankings, alumni engagement and giving, and employer engagement. We want to make sure we continue on this trajectory.

The North Academic Building also allows us to grow our highly selective programs. In the current building, for example, our classrooms limit our MBA cohort size to 60 students. The new building makes it possible to increase cohorts up to 76 students, which strengthens both our financial model and our partnerships with employers.

20 years ago Haas moved into its current facilities. How did that change things for Haas?

Moving into our current beautiful buildings in 1995 was an inflection point. The new building enabled us to grow self-supporting programs by some 300 percent. The resulting financial strength allowed us to compete for and win top-of-the-market faculty. It stoked a sense of belonging and affiliation among our students and graduates, and it raised our profile with employers.

Today, 20 years later, we have exhausted the lift from our current buildings. Our classrooms in Cheit Hall are booked solid, not just during the week but in the evening and even on the weekend. We had 1,300 degree-program students in 1995; now we have 2,200. There is no room to grow or expand into the opportunities we face. So it is time to create a new inflection point.

Considering the shift toward online education, some might say why build on campus?

I anticipate that Haas may increasingly explore hybrid models of teaching that combine online learning with learning together in the classroom. Like all leading schools, Haas is experimenting diligently in the area of top-quality synchronous and asynchronous digital education.

For example, Haas has been offering one of its most popular courses, Prof. Cameron Anderson’s Power & Politics, as a hybrid. It’s been a huge success, and not just with students. Anderson himself says that he has learned a lot about how to customize learning and claims that he will never teach in the classroom in the same way again.

I don’t believe that online education will ever completely replace the need to come to campus to meet people, learn from each other, and have an experience together. That’s why our North Academic Building will offer different styles and sizes of classrooms, study rooms, etc. It will also have the infrastructure to support all the latest educational technologies.

Is there a financial case to be made for this new building?

Absolutely. Our estimates put the financial lift from the new building at about $6 million in net resources a year. That is the equivalent of $100 million in endowment.

More than 20 percent of our revenues currently come from our (non-degree) executive education program. Exec Ed has lacked the room to grow in the form that the clients want, namely, room that is part of the Haas School proper. Having more classrooms will definitely help.

How does the building reflect the mission and culture of Berkeley-Haas?

Our mission is to develop leaders who redefine how we do business—and who do so responsibly. Environmental stewardship is a key aspect of responsible business. It was important for us to construct a building that meets the latest standards in environmental conservation. We designed the North Academic Building to meet certified LEED Gold status and we may be able to raise it to Platinum status as we complete construction.

The North Academic Building is also designed to encourage community, both within Haas and within the greater community that surrounds us. Overlooking the San Francisco Bay Area from our magnificent event space will give you a sense of perspective of the innovation ecosystem of which Haas is a part. Our new building and the newly renovated courtyard that connects it to our existing buildings will play a central role in boosting new connections and new ideas.

Read more about the North Academic Building.