It was over a belated vacation last week that Doug Shackelford finally concluded that he wants his life back.
The dean of the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina announced to faculty, staff and students on Friday he would step down from the job he has held since 2014. The real shocker: His last day as dean would be just three days later on Monday (Sept. 19).
Shackelford, who joined the faculty in 1990, has been in a series of demanding leadership roles at the school for more than two decades. Before his deanship, he was the senior associate dean for academic affairs between 2003 and 2007 and associate dean of the Master of Accounting program between 1998 and 2002. He helped to make UNC one of the early pioneers of online graduate education with the launch of the school’s highly successful online MBA program in 2010. Under Shackelford’s leadership, the schoolalso has launched an online version of its master’s in accounting program and expanded its Executive MBA program into Charlotte. He also founded the UNC Tax Center in 2001.
‘I HAVE RUN AS HARD AS I COULD FOR AS LONG AS I COULD’
Consistently among the highest-ranked online MBAs, MBA@UNC now has an enrollment of roughly 770 students, more than the nearly 600 students currently in Kenan-Flagler’s full-time residential MBA program. The full-time MBA program climbed 11 places in last week’s new Bloomberg Businessweek MBA ranking to place 22nd best in the U.S.
In an email to the Kenan-Flagler community, he wrote: “I have run as hard as I could for as long as I could. I can’t continue at the pace this school deserves. I regret that I didn’t anticipate things better. I could tell that I was not recovering from long weeks as quickly as I had in the past and I was unduly frustrated at times, but I failed to foresee this timing.”
In a video accompanying his email, he voiced a similar message. “Serving as dean has been the greatest honor of my life,” said Shackelford in the video. “This decision has not been easy and I know it will be surprising to many of you. In brief, I’m very tired. I’m not physically ill and I’m sure I’ll be fine with some rest. But I need to hand the baton to another who can run at the pace this school deserves. Please know that this school is far bigger than any single person and it will continue to thrive.”
‘I LOOKED AT MY CALENDAR FROM NOW UNTIL THANKSGIVING AND HAD ONE DAY IN THE OFFICE’
In an interview with Poets&Quants, Shackelford says he had been actively considering leaving the job before his vacation but as the phone calls, emails and text messages piled up while he was trying to get away, he made the final decision to call it quits.
“I had been in some conversations before then and it just seemed like the right thing to do but then I went on vacation and the emails keep coming and I looked at my calendar from now until Thanksgiving and I was going to be in the office for one day out of every five per week with the rest of the time on the road. Maybe five years ago I could do that but you just start to look at that differently. At some point, you just get run down. There is the tired you recover from with a weekend or a vacation or there is the other kind of tired that doesn’t go away.”
His schedule was so packed during the summer months that he could not take any meaningful time off. “My wife and I slipped down to the beach back in August for a weekend and I was on the phone the entire trip down there and on email the trip back. While I was there, I had one foot in the sand and water and another on the iPad. It is a little hard to find a break.”
‘MY WIFE AND KIDS ARE VERY HAPPY. I AM A BAG OF MIXED EMOTIONS’
His family encouraged him to make a real break. “For some time now, my wife and kids have been saying the clock is running out,” says Shackelford. “The last year or so has been particularly difficult. COVID was like Dog Years. I don’t know if the job is getting harder or I am getting older but the combination leads to a safe place for all of us. My wife and kids are very happy. I am a bag of mixed emotions today. I probably could have dragged this out a little longer but at some point you realize it’s time to give somebody else a chance to lead the school.”
His decision to leave also is occuring weeks after Angelica Rose Brown, a former UNC Kenan-Flager graduate student, filed a federal lawsuit against the University, three business school professors and the UNC Board of Governors alleging race discrimination.
In a campus-wide email Friday, the university said that it will name an interim dean early this week, while launching a national search for Shackelford’s successor. “Doug’s tenure at UNC Kenan-Flagler is marked by numerous achievements that leave the school in a position of strength,” said Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and Provost Chris Clemens in a statement. “We are grateful for everything he has accomplished and wish him well in his next endeavors.” His tenure as dean, the university added, “leaves the (business) school in a position of strength.”
DOUBLED GRADUATE ENROLLMENT IN PAST TEN YEARS & HOPE TO DOUBLE UNDERGRAD ENROLLMENT OVER THE NEXT TEN
He also leaves the deanship having doubled graduate enrollment in the past ten years and with plans, including the addition of a new 140,000 square-foot building that will allow UNC to double its undergraduate business population in the next ten years. The school will break ground on the new building, with 16 state-of-the-art classrooms, within the next week or two. It is scheduled to open in late 2024 or early 2025.
“Expanding access to the school is probably the thing that matters the most,” Shackelford tells Poets&Quants. “My dad went to night school in the sixties in East Carolina and that put my family in a different direction because that access was available. I don’t like the model in American higher education where we spend so much on so few. UNC was the first public university, and I have been proud to be at a place that provides access to the masses, largely first generation students. We doubled our graduate enrollment in the last decade. And we will double our undergraduate population over the next decade.”
Shackelford was also a successful fundraiser for the school. As part of its centennial celebration in 2019, UNC Kenan-Flagler created 20 new scholarships and fellowships to expand its commitment to accessibility. The school recently surpassed its $400 million goal in the Campaign for Carolina to fund more academic research and hire new faculty. Some of the funds he raised are going to the new Steven D. Bell Hall, which was made possible by private gifts and the N.C. General Assembly.
‘I WON’T MAKE ANY DECISIONS BEFORE THE FIRST OF THE YEAR’
Born in North Carolina, he graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1980 and went immediately to work for what was then Arthur Andersen as a senior tax consultant from 1981 to 1985 when he entered the PhD program in business administration at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. Armed with his Phd and expertise in the field of taxation, Shackelford returned to his alma mater in 1990 as an assistant professor.
He’s not yet decided what his next move will be. “I am going to take some advice that I have given to other people,” he says. “I need to take long enough so I just don’t jump instinctively into something. I have been doing this job so long that I don’t know anything other than to get in here early and work as long and hard as I can and go home. I don’t know what the future quite holds. I won’t make any decisions before the first of the year.”
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