Course Evaluation

As a student at Tennessee State University, Oprah Winfrey majored in speech, communications, and performing arts, but when she returns to academia this fall as an adjunct professor at Northwestern University’s J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management, her subject will be the art of leadership. With her longtime beau, marketing executive Stedman Graham, Winfrey will teach a ten-week course called “The Dynamics of Leadership,” her first attempt to impart her accumulated wisdom on the subject, presumably without a TelePrompTer or scores of production assistants swarming around her. Classes at Kellogg generally number 30 to 50 students, but the Winfrey-Graham course will admit 100 second-year MBA candidates. Graham was unavailable for comment, but in a prepared statement he provided a broad definition of the course, suggesting it will “teach students the importance of leadership in every aspect of their lives, including business and management.”

Winfrey’s celebrity and lack of academic experience have some Kellogg faculty wondering if her appointment will be a coup or a short-lived publicity stunt. “She’s an enormous name, but she doesn’t have a lot of experience teaching,” observes Kellogg professor Walter Scott, one of two instructors who already teach leadership courses. In magazine surveys rating graduate business schools, Kellogg has ranked at or near the top in recent years, but some professors speculate that a school’s buzz can boost its ranking. One Kellogg professor says the school keeps “careful track of how many ‘hits’ each professor gets in the media.”

Regardless of her megabuzz, Winfrey will have to translate her own phenomenal success into a course that can help others, and as Scott and others attest, leadership is no science. “I’m a little skeptical of leadership courses in general,” concedes David Dranove, chair of Kellogg’s management and strategy department, which will offer the Winfrey-Graham course. The discipline’s literature seems to cleave between magazine articles and weighty tomes like Plato and the Bible. “There’s not much you can teach about leadership,” says Scott, “but there’s a lot you can learn.” As with Winfrey’s TV show, the course’s fate will be decided by its ratings: at the end of each term Kellogg students fill out an evaluation form, ranking a course’s difficulty and its overall quality on a scale of one to seven. School officials analyze the evaluations carefully; former labor secretary Lynn Martin reportedly fell victim to poor ratings and plummeting class enrollments after joining the faculty in 1993. For the past two years Graham has taught a sports-marketing class at Kellogg; most recently it ranked five overall (about average) but only three in difficulty.

The deal to appoint Winfrey was struck by Donald Jacobs, dean of Kellogg, with little or no input from other professors; Jacobs was out of town and unavailable for comment. Students were cautiously optimistic about the appointment. “I think bringing in people who have leadership experience is good for the school, but I just don’t know how good a teacher she will be,” says Gilad Sokolov, who gave up a lucrative job in his native Israel to enroll at Kellogg. Another student, who asked not to be identified, said, “I think it’s fantastic because Winfrey brings experience to the room, and not just research.” But everyone seems to agree on one point. As Dranove put it, “Oprah should have no trouble engaging the students in conversation.”

Heading for the Palace

Randall Green has been named general manager of the Palace Theatre, which is being renovated and will reopen in November with Aida, a new musical by Walt Disney Theatricals. From 1981 to 1990 Green served as general manager of the Civic Opera House and the Civic Theatre (now a rehearsal hall for the Lyric Opera); after that he was managing director of Ballet Chicago, when it was still a functioning ballet troupe, and for more than five years he’s managed the performing arts facility at Elgin Community College. Green starts his new job in June.

As the Door Spins

After less than a year and a half in the job, Ruth Higgins has resigned as general manager of the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie. Sources say that Higgins’s announcement late last week caught her staff by surprise, though when Higgins took the job she admitted that she wasn’t sure it would work out. She will probably volunteer at the Theatre Building, which she built with her husband Byron Schaffer and managed for more than 20 years, while she considers other job options.

Fun in Yugoslavia

Black Cat, White Cat, the latest film by acclaimed Yugoslavian director Emir Kusturica, won’t be lighting up the screen at the Music Box this weekend as scheduled: October Films, the New York-based distributor, is postponing its American release. Kusturica’s last film, Underground, won the Palme d’Or at Cannes but was criticized by some as pro-Serbian (though Kusturica is a Bosnian Muslim). The new film is a black comedy set in a Gypsy community; according to press materials it features “wild chases, exuberant parties, fake deaths, skulduggery, double crosses, mishaps, and pratfalls.” Dennis Rice, president of worldwide marketing for October, says, “It would not be respectful of the people of Yugoslavia or their plight to release the film at this time.” Black Cat, White Cat will probably open in New York and Los Angeles this fall; additional engagements may follow.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Timothy White.