The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday March 20th

Op-ed: Reflections as Kenan-Flagler changes leaders

First, let me get this off my chest. I was a Duke undergrad. I still bleed Duke blue and have shaved a Z on the side of my head for Zion!  That said, as a high school senior, I only applied to Carolina and Duke. At the time, there was no Carolina Covenant, and I “underperformed” on my Morehead interview. So, I took down my “Duke is a Four-Letter Word” bumper sticker and tucked away my memories of calling into the Dean Smith Show in middle school. Financial aid made Duke free, and Carolina was far from it.  

Fast forward 35 years, and I have been at Carolina for 16 years. I love teaching here. As a Lumbee kid from rural North Carolina, I have lived the dream. I work hard to be one of the reasons my students are transformed by their time here. I’m proud to have earned five
teaching awards, two eagle feathers from local tribes and an induction into the Order of the Golden Fleece. I’m all in: I’ve even dog-sat for a former student.

My approach to teaching is to be authentic and, at times, vulnerable. I list my ADHD and anxiety diagnosis in my faculty bio so that students can see I am a regular person with regular strengths and challenges. Because of this approach, students often reach out for advice. This is part of the “invisible labor” provided by many faculty and staff from marginalized groups.

Last week, a group of students reached out to me to ask for advice on dealing with their voices being devalued in class because of their identities. In recounting their experiences, one said, “I hate Kenan-Flagler.” Even as an outspoken critic of the school, I was shocked and sad. Rather than run through the list of the business school’s flaws, I’ll simply say that they had a set of valid complaints that run deep through the school. Our challenges with diversity and inclusion
will not be solved by the recent retirement of Dean Doug Shackelford. He never had the internal or external support required to mold Kenan-Flagler into an inclusive institution.

In 2013, a search committee composed of many current Kenan Flagler leaders chose Doug Shackelford over another finalist, Erika James. Shortly afterward, she accepted the position of
Dean at Emory’s business school. In 2020, she became the first woman and first African American to lead the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. We, like other business schools, worry about rankings, yet we weren’t willing to choose a rising star on her way to the top. Doug Shackelford didn’t make that decision; he accepted the position just like I would have. Meanwhile, Kenan-Flagler is without a dean or an associate dean of DEI, and we need to
support our students that don’t feel heard.

Kenan-Flagler is at a crossroads. I hope that UNC and business school leaders can find the courage and conviction to put students first as they choose the path ahead.

Larry Chavis
Lumbee Economist, Chapel Hill

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