Remembering Professor Reuben R. McDaniel Jr.
The McCombs community lost an influential and popular educator, researcher, and collaborator on Feb. 7, with the passing of Professor Reuben R. McDaniel Jr. at the age of 80 years old.
McDaniel was an expert in complexity science and held the Charles and Elizabeth Prothro Regents Chair in Health Care Management at the McCombs School of Business. He was an active member of The University of Texas at Austin’s faculty until his death.
McDaniel was widely known and respected in his field for his research in the areas of decision-making within complex systems, creativity, and innovation, management strategies for improved performance, policy analysis, and organizational theory. He was equally talented in the classroom, and received numerous awards for his outstanding teaching of MBA elective courses. In 2013, McDaniel was named a “Texas 10” most influential professor by the Texas Exes.
With a math-professor father and a business-professor mother, McDaniel practically grew up on a college campus — but he originally had no intention of following in his parents' footsteps.
"I could observe with my own two eyes how hard professors worked," McDaniel recalled in a 2013 article published on McCombs Today. He spent 10 years as a mechanical engineer. But he didn't stay away from education for long. He went back to school intending to go into higher education administration, but as a graduate student, he fell in love with teaching.
McDaniel’s educational career began in 1965 at Baldwin Wallace University’s Learning Center, where he was the only African-American staff person in the administration, serving as assistant to the dean and assistant professor of education.
He received an Ed.D. from Indiana University in 1971 and then joined The University of Texas at Austin, where he went on to hold several positions, including dean of students (1972-73), assistant professor of management (1972-75), and associate professor of management (1975-81). Also, in 1979, he served as acting deputy commissioner for medical programs for the Texas Department of Human Resources.
McDaniel went on to become a professor of management science and information systems at McCombs, in addition to being adjunct professor in the departments of medicine and radiation oncology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. He was the founding coordinator of the McCombs health care initiative, helping apply business principles to the problem of how to better extend the quality and accessibility of health care services. He was named to the Marquis Who’s Who in Medicine and Healthcare in 2012.
"Reuben made my brain hurt... but in a good way"
McDaniel believed in pushing students to go beyond expectations.
"The students deserve more credit than we give them," he observed. "Sometimes my colleagues look at my syllabus and they say, 'You know MBA students will not read that stuff you assigned.' My response is always the same: 'I'm positive they will not read it if it's not assigned.'"
When he received an MBA Applause Award for distinguished teaching in 2007, McDaniel explained: “To best learn and retain, people need to be mentally engaged, to think back about what they have learned in the past and constantly link it to the present moment. My style in the classroom is usually pretty active, and I really like to get the students interacting. Sometimes I will just say something totally absurd just to get them to push back and say, ‘Whoa, wait a minute, that doesn’t make sense.’”
Although he watched his parents teach for many years — and they never pressured him to become a professor — McDaniel's decision to venture into academia had a different outcome than he expected.
His parents "worked really hard," McDaniel said. "I work really hard also. It just turns out that it really isn't work but fun — lots of fun. I just didn't recognize that they were having fun, too."
Edward G. Anderson Jr., professor of Information, Risk, & Operations Management and director of the McCombs Healthcare Initiative, said there are just too many things to say about the impact of McDaniel’s passing: “In research, as my colleague Dr. Douglas Morrice has beautifully stated, Reuben was an academic titan. While he single-handedly began the institutionalization of healthcare industry research here at McCombs, his influence stretched out far beyond the Forty Acres. One interesting fact: A number of his students have become deans at other schools. Not many of us can say that.”
Besides being a good friend and mentor to many of his fellow professors, Anderson said he believes McDaniel's biggest effect was upon students. “Forget his many other awards for a moment,” Anderson says. “I think the greatest compliment I ever heard was made by one of his students, who said to me after one class, ‘Reuben made my brain hurt today … but in a good way.’ Multiply that impact by all his students, whose brains he made think so hard—but they loved him for it—every year since 1972, and it makes you begin to realize the titan-sized hole that his passing has left at UT.”
McDaniel’s enthusiasm won’t easily be replicated. “We will miss Reuben greatly and the school will not be the same without him,” says McCombs Dean Jay Hartzell.
A memorial service will be held at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center on the UT campus, at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 14. A scholarship endowment honoring McDaniel will be established, and well-wishers are encouraged to donate to the endowment in lieu of flowers.