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April 16, 2009
By John Trent
Robert Weems, the founding dean of the College of Business at the University of Nevada, Reno, passed away on April 11. He was 98.
Known to his colleagues for his genial personality and his ability to unite others in a common vision, Weems became dean of the College of Business at the University in 1956. He was dean for 21 years, and during that time the fledgling college grew from seven faculty members and 230 students to more than 50 faculty and 1,000 students.
In 2004, Weems was named a Distinguished Nevadan by the Nevada System of Higher Education.
“He was one of the grand old men of the University,” said Mike Reed, who served as dean of the College of Business from 1993-2006 after joining the Nevada faculty in 1972. “Everyone loved Bob Weems.”
Robert Cicero Weems, Jr., was born in Meridian, Miss., on July 22, 1910, grew up in Shubuta, Miss., and by 15 was already well on his way to a career in business, working part-time as a bank teller and doing investments in stocks.
He graduated from Mississippi State in 1931, earned his MBA from Northwestern University and joined the faculty of Mississippi State, becoming at age 29 the youngest dean in the nation. After serving in the Navy during World War II, Weems earned his Ph.D. in economics from Columbia.
Then, in 1956, he was recruited to become the first dean of the University’s College of Business.
The task facing him was daunting, according to Nevada historian James Hulse, who wrote in his “The University of Nevada: A Centennial History,” that, “Weems reached the campus at a time when the business and economics faculty was crippled by retirements, resignations and illness; and staff members from other departments were teaching some of the classes. He inherited relatively few faculty members from the old Department of Sociology, Economics and Business and began with a professional staff of five.”
Still, through sheer will and a vision that he hoped would one day place the College of Business in an indispensable position in Nevada, there was growth and notable milestones. In 1957, within 16 months of its founding, the new college’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research gained full membership in the national organization, the Associated University Bureaus of Business and Economic Research. The swiftness of the accomplishment was a new record.
“In two years,” Hulse wrote, “the college had eleven faculty members and in five years it counted twenty-one full-time professionals. It received accreditation from the American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business in 1961, its fifth year.”
Weems, in a 2006 interview, was proud of his college’s many achievements, and kept close tabs on his successors long after his tenure as dean ended in 1977.
“Our beloved college has enjoyed many milestones since 1956,” Weems said. “Our mission was to get the college fully accredited within five years, and by gosh, we did it. We conducted the first Intercollegiate Simulated Business Games competition, hosting nine universities and colleges in 1965. In 1974, COBA sponsored the first annual Symposium on Gambling. By 1987 we were recognized as a worldwide leader of gambling knowledge and research.
“As the state of Nevada has grown, so, too, has our college. We have graduated men and women who are leaders in every important industry in our state. That has been the purpose of our college and its predecessors here at the University from the very beginning.”
At age 90, Weems undertook another important University mission when he wrote the book, “Business for Nevada,” a history of business education at the University of Nevada. The book has become an important resource in understanding the evolution of the College of Business, and is often cited by historians and journalists who have written about the history of business in the state.
Reed, now the vice chancellor for finance and administration for the Nevada System of Higher Education, remembered earlier this week how the process proved Weems, even at age 90, was more than willing to learn new things.
“We set Bob up with an office in the college, and he would come in all the time to work on his book,” Reed said. Then Reed added, with the a good-natured chuckle of having been a colleague and friend with Weems for 37 years, “He went from typewriter to computer during that time, and did a great job.”
Weems is preceded in death by his wife, Frances, who passed away in 2005. The couple’s daughter, Dr. Susan Cox, is a graduate of the University of Nevada School of Medicine.