UNC Kenan-Flagler Prof: B-School Secretly Recorded My Classes

An economics professor at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School says school officials secretly recorded at least four of his undergraduate business school classes, a move he contends violates Kenan-Flagler’s own policy.

Larry Chavis, clinical professor of strategy and entrepreneurship who has worked at Kenan-Flagler for 18 years, tells Poets&Quants that he suspects the recordings are in retaliation for publicly criticizing the school on issues such as faculty diversity and pay equity.

Larry Chavis: “I worry that there’s a policy for Larry and a different one for others”

The school, however, told Chavis it recorded his classes in response to student “reports concerning class content and conduct within (Chavis’) class over the last few months,” according to an email sent to Chavis on April 22 from Kenan-Flagler senior associate dean Christian Lundblad. The email does not say what the concerns are and have not elaborated on those concerns with Chavis since.

In a written response to several P&Q questions, a spokeswoman for Kenan-Flager wrote, “We are not able to share the nature of students’ complaints or confidential personnel information about faculty. Protecting the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression is among the most important university responsibilities. Equally important is our responsibility to our students’ learning, academic success and well-being in the classroom.”

CLASSES RECORDED OVER FOUR DAYS

On April 22, Chavis tells P&Q he received Lundblad’s email with a copy of the signed letter. The letter said school officials “recorded and reviewed” several class sessions on four different days: April 8, 10, 15, and 17, using an existing camera in the classroom.

“Notice is not required to record classes, and we do record classes without notice in response to concerns raised by students,” the letter states. (Read the full text in the photo below.)

 

 

However, Chavis points out that Kenan-Flagler’s own IT policies, as posted on the school’s website, contradicts Lundblad’s claim that notice to record is not required.

There are two statements that Chavis says seem to contradict this claim under the section “Panopto Terms of Use.” (Panopto is the brand of camera in Kenan-Flagler classrooms and through which school officials recorded Chavis’ classes).

  • UNC Kenan-Flagler Faculty, Staff, and Students using Lecture Capture service “Agrees that recordings are to be accessed and used only as directed by the faculty member(s) teaching the course.”
  • “Individual classes are only recorded with the expressed permission of Faculty and they opt-in by approving the request form.”

The policy also “recognizes the privacy rights of students who speak in class.”

“For me, the act of the recording is not the fundamental issue. I live life out loud,” Chavis tells Poets&Quants. “But my students never agreed, to their knowledge, to be recorded. And it went against our stated policy which was not referenced in the letter. That’s where I worry that there’s a policy for Larry and a different one for others. I just have no idea.”

In the written statement to P&Q, the Kenan-Flagler spokeswoman says, “The University does not have a formal policy on filming, but we follow applicable laws. The UNC Kenan-Flagler IT guidelines were created to provide information about recording classes for student distribution. Faculty have a choice of recording their classes to be distributed (or not) to students who missed class. They might choose not to have them distributed because they don’t want class materials shared to protect their intellectual property.”

P&Q asked a follow-up question for clarification on the “applicable laws” Kenan-Flagler is following, but has not received a response as of press time.

Kenan-Flagler also didn’t answer our questions on whether they had ever recorded any other professor’s lectures without their knowledge and, if so, whether they had been used in disciplinary proceedings.

A TIMELINE OF SPEAKING OUT

Chavis earned his PhD in economics from Stanford Graduate School of Management. He teaches or has taught across all levels of study at Kenan-Flagler – from undergraduate to MBA to executive program – and often integrates issues of mental health, race and equality in his coursework and writing, according to his Kenan-Flagler faculty profile.

Chavis is a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, and he grew up in a trailer in one of the poorest counties in the country. “I was picked on by other Native American kids for being poor,” he says.

Education was his path away from that trailer. He earned his BA in anthropology from Duke University, two Master’s degrees from Cornell University including a Master’s of Science in Applied Economics, and his doctorate in economics from Stanford GSB. He also studied Anthropology at John Hopkins University and is currently pursuing an MFA in creative writing from the Institute of American Indian Arts. A week ago, he was named a 2024 Desert Nights Rising Stars Fellow, and he will teach a session at its writing conference sponsored by Arizona State University’s Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing.

Coming to Kenan-Flagler in 2006 felt like a return home.

Chavis says he was on the tenure track when he first came to Kenan-Flagler, and thought his publications and citations were on par with other tenured professors. But, he never went up for tenure. For the last 10 years, he’s been a teaching professor at Kenan-Flagler. Part of it was that as he spent more time in the classroom, he really enjoyed teaching and got great feedback from his students. He also spent time supervising undergrads through their honor theses.

But, over the years, he feels he has been overlooked for promotion and administrative roles leadership has told him he’d be good at, he tells P&Q. Meanwhile, he was granted opportunities that had to do with his Native American heritage. He served as a director of UNC’s American Indian Center from 2017 to 2021. He has written and spoken out in class that he felt he didn’t fit into Kenan-Flagler’s buttoned-up culture.

As his career appeared to him to stall out, he has become more vocal about his concerns. Quite publicly at times.

In October 2022, Chavis was quoted in a news article for UNC’s student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, criticizing Kenan-Flagler’s record on race and gender as the school was in the middle of a search for a new dean. (In Bloomberg’s 2023-2024 ranking of the best business schools, Kenan Flagler finished 56st for diversity out of 75 schools ranked on the metric.)

“Carolina’s challenges with diversity and inclusion are well known across the country, and I think of Kenan-Flagler as the worst of the worst — or one of the worst,” Chavis told the newspaper. He added that there is an “old guard,” particularly of professors who are scared of the way the world is changing.

He has, over the years, called for more faculty diversity at Kenan-Flagler, and was chastised for telling students that wearing clothing from sports teams with Native American names or logos would violate the school’s honor code because it is disrespectful to indigenous students. (Chavis says he amended his message to say that he hoped that after taking his classes students would be less likely to wear such memorabilia).

Last month, he wrote a Linked-In post criticizing what he sees as inequitable pay between him and other faculty. (See above.)

“The average salary, including summer bonus, for the fifty highest-paid professors at Kenan Flagler is $443,801. I make $212,035, and I teach 25% more. That is over 50% less in total compensation. (There are many other teaching professors, mostly women, who work more than I do and make less than half as much. My situation is far from the worst.),” he wrote in the post.

“I also make less in total compensation than every new tenure-track professor. I am grateful to make so much, but being paid way less than the people you pass in the halls for essentially doing the same thing is emotionally challenging.”

And, in April, he read aloud an email exchange between him and Kenan-Flagler’s new dean Mary Margaret Frank in his undergrad International Development course with a focus on indigenous issues. He cited it as an example of how not to build an inclusive environment in an organization.

“I conveyed (in the class discussion) that this was not a thing against our dean, but really as my problem fitting to two worlds, the kind of challenges that faculty from marginalized groups, particularly from Native American groups, have,” he tells P&Q.

He later wrote in a Linked-in post that he suspects that reading this exchange in class was one of the administration’s concerns that prompted the recordings, though the university has yet to discuss with him the nature of the complaints. He also includes the full email exchange with dean Frank on the Linked-in post.

CONCERNS OVER STUDENT PRIVACY AND ACADEMIC FREEDOM

The April 22 letter notifying Chavis that his classes were recorded also stated that Chavis was “under a formal review process.”

“We wanted to let you know that we will continue recording your class as part of a formal review process. Your lectures will be reviewed by two peer faculty members, Chris Bingham (your Area Chair), Brad Staats, and me,” Lundblad wrote.

After Chavis pointed out the apparent discrepancy with the IT policy, UNC provost J. Christopher Clemens told Chavis that it was possible that the peer review can be conducted by a person in the classroom, to which Chavis agreed.

The April 22 letter also said a meeting would be scheduled to discuss the reported concerns, but Chavis has heard nothing about the follow-up meeting since.

“Looking at the timeline, the email sounds so serious. The provost was copied, the Office of Faculty Affairs for the university was copied, Kenan-Flagler HR was copied, and our dean. That seems really intense,” he tells P&Q.

“Then at the same time, they say, well, we’ll take care of it in a month. So I’m having a hard time getting my head around, if it’s so serious that you would do all these things, but not let me know right away (about the concerns) so that it would not happen again.”

Chavis’ one-year contract is up on June 30.

Chavis has since gone public, granting interviews to North Carolina news outlet The Assembly and TV station WRAL-TV. He’s also written several Linked-in posts.

His concerns are not that he is presenting inappropriate material in his classes, he says, but that the recordings are a breach of both student privacy and academic freedom. His classes discuss sensitive topics around race, belonging, equity, and inclusivity. Students may have said things they would not have said had they known they were being recorded.

“I do believe that the range of professors here at UNC, across campus, should be concerned (by the recording) because it also violated Kenan-Flagler’s posted policy,” he tells P&Q.

“Are posted policies meaningful? Can we trust them? There’s a whole range of employee related issues of both academic freedom, but also of a transparent work environment where the lines or rules are clear.”

DON’T MISS: WILL THE ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT COST THIS COLUMBIA B-SCHOOL PROF HIS CAREER? and STANFORD ALUMNI ACCUSE SCHOOL’S LEADERS OF ‘A SHOCKING ABROGATION’ AS CAMPUS DIVISIONS DEEPEN

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.