Sharon Oster, 1948-2022 | Yale School of Management
Oster served as Dean of Yale SOM from November 2008 to June 2011. She took the helm under difficult circumstances. The previous dean, Joel Podolny, left unexpectedly before the end of his term, and Yale president Richard Levin turned to Oster to provide continuity as well as energy and meaning. strategic to the role. This turned out to be a crucial decision for the school.
Yale SOM had recently launched a very distinctive integrated MBA program, but the approach was novel and required heavy investments of faculty time and other resources to maintain. Oster decided to focus on solidifying and refining the core, adding courses as needed and adjusting the content. Reinforced at a key moment, the integrated curriculum remains the foundation of the MBA program today.
Oster also oversaw much of the fundraising and planning for Edward P. Evans Hall – the land was laid for the new campus in the final months of his deanship – and helped ensure that the building would reflect the character of SOM and the approach needed to teach effectively. the integrated course.
When Oster became dean, multiple sources of revenue had been badly affected by the financial crisis, and the school faced projected deficits. During her first year, she ran the school in the dark without sacrificing her core teaching and research duties.
It set a pattern. The school ended the fiscal year with a surplus in every year she was dean. And subsequent leaders built on what has become a tradition of prudent fiscal management; the school now has a 14-year deficit avoidance streak. At the same time, Oster has succeeded in strengthening and developing full-time faculty.
William N. Goetzmann ’86, Edwin J. Beinecke Professor of Financial and Management Studies, said Oster brought a number of skills to the deanery, including knowledge gained from years of study at the non-profit strategy. “When the time came for her to become Dean of the School, she was an inspirational and remarkably successful leader. She was fearless in the field we euphemistically call ‘development’, perhaps because she understood better than anyone the link between nonprofit organizations and donors interested in the mission.
In the dean’s seat as well as in the classroom, Oster remained focused on helping students. Leading the school through the deepest economic downturn of her life, she faced a depressed labor market. Oster pledged $100,000 of her own salary to fund student internships at Yale, and she tirelessly worked her networks of alumni and colleagues to find opportunities.
Stanley Garstka, now Emeritus Professor of Management Practice, worked closely with Oster during this time as the school’s associate dean. He said Oster stood out as a leader because of both her expertise and her character. “It’s always easy to work with someone you admire and respect,” Garstka said. “Rather than simply listing a bunch of her accomplishments, of which there are many, I prefer to note the wonderful attributes she possessed as a person: honesty, loyalty, intelligence, integrity and her fundamental respect for people. Sharon knew who she was and what she was and lived her personal and professional life accordingly. Even though we initially disagreed with each other, we could find common ground and feel good about it, and each other. You could never question Sharon’s loyalty to the school and its mission.
When Oster left as dean, her colleagues in the economics group, led by Fiona Scott Morton and Judith Chevalier, asked former students of the school to tell stories demonstrating how Oster’s teaching continued to benefit them. to be beneficial. Tributes poured in. Time and again, former students have described how the economics lessons they absorbed in Oster’s class further shaped their thinking and led to professional and personal triumphs.
Valuable friend and collaborator
When Oster retired from active teaching in 2018, the school needed someone to teach the Nonprofit Strategy course, which had become a mainstay of the school. Judith Chevalier, a longtime colleague and friend, stepped in, cherishing the opportunity to co-teach the course with Oster for a semester. Their students recognized what a significant transition Oster’s retirement was, recalls Chevalier. “Students asked me what we were doing to commemorate Sharon’s last official course in SOM, and I told them that Sharon had forbidden me to overdo it, but that I would not stop the students from undertake a modest expression of their gratitude,” she said. “Students brought homemade flags with Sharon’s picture on them, one led a procession playing the bagpipes, and they presented Sharon with a display case with a replica of Wonder Woman’s crown.”
Will Goetzmann first knew Oster as a teacher when he attended SOM and later as a fellow faculty member. The two co-authored articles on university endowments and art museums. “It was great fun working with her,” he said. “She understood research as a serious game and as an intellectual partnership. Anyone who knew her will know her dry, delightful humor and great conversation. Just spending time with Sharon Oster will be deeply missed by me.
Edward H. Kaplan, William N. and Marie A. Beach Professor of Operations Research, was a colleague and “dear friend” of Oster for 35 years, and regularly started his mornings with coffee with Oster and Stan Garstka. “Sharon was a loyal friend,” Kaplan said. “I will never forget him (and Stan) accompanying me to Sloan Kettering to deal with my own health issues or being the first to comfort me when my mother died in 1991. She loved her family very much and regularly put me aware of their accomplishments, experiences, and vacations. She took particular pleasure in telling me about her grandchildren (and how they were already learning about probability with pillows shaped like probability distributions!).
Oster was completely devoted to her family. She and her husband, Ray Fair, also an economist, have been married for 45 years. They raised three children – Emily Oster, Stephen Fair and John Oster – in a home filled with love and, also, thrift. One of her children recalls being told that the reason the family had their groceries delivered was because Sharon and Ray had a “high opportunity cost of time”. The fact that his family remained close as they grew into adults was one of Oster’s greatest joys and a source of great pride. She is survived by her children and eight grandchildren, with another on the way.
Oster’s influence is sure to live on in many ways, most poignantly in the memories of the many family members, faculty, students and alumni who owe him a debt of gratitude. Judith Chevalier said: “We could always count on Sharon for the best advice. Anything, anything to do with my kids, a referee, a sticky situation with college. Recently, a colleague from another school cited some great advice I gave him years ago that he thought was very important. I had to laugh because it was just advice from Sharon that I recycled and gave her.
Oster’s name will also live on in a particularly fitting way. In 2018, a group of Yale College and Yale SOM alumni, faculty colleagues, and other supporters enabled the school to establish an endowed chair in economics in her honor, the Sharon Oster Chair.
Former Yale President Richard Levin said at the time, “This ongoing recognition ensures that Sharon’s accomplishments, as a legendary teacher and colleague, and as the first woman to be our Dean, will not be never forgotten. For generations of future students and scholars, the Sharon Oster Chair will be, as Sharon herself has been for us, a source of inspiration.
In lieu of flowers, Oster’s family asks that you please consider making a donation to Achievement First. Sharon Oster cared deeply about education and not only dedicated her career to teaching, but was also passionate about providing high quality educational opportunities to all, regardless of means.