Ask Rob Burrus almost any question about his new role at the Cameron School of Business, and his response focuses on others: faculty members, students, members of the Cameron Executive Network. The economics professor, tapped to serve as interim dean of the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s business school, maintains that an important part of his mission is to maintain a legacy of servant leadership.
“The dean is not a one-person show; the dean helps ideas come to fruition,” Burrus said. “We had great leadership for a long time. Larry [Clark] was fantastic, Becky Porterfield did several different stints, and Bill Sackley has stepped back but is still involved with student engagement kinds of things.”
Larry Clark, dean of Cameron School of Business for 14 years, left in June for his new position as chancellor of Louisiana State University-Shreveport. Porterfield, who was the school’s graduate associate dean and was also very involved with the business school’s international studies and other initiatives, is the new dean of the Haile/US Bank College of Business at Northern Kentucky University. Bill Sackley, a professor of finance, was formerly director of UNCW’s Swain Center for Business and Economic Services.
With that kind of leadership tradition, Burrus said, “We’re not going to run in quicksand next year.”
“One of the things that made our leadership team so good is that the vision is never the dean’s vision,” he said. “You operationalize the vision that trickles up from faculty, staff, advisory boards, the CEN [Cameron Executive Network]. You are constantly listening and try to be a servant leader in operationalizing these great ideas. That was Larry, Becky and Bill’s great strength, and that’s what we’re going to keep doing. Ideas that rise to the top become the things we pursue.”
Burrus is not entirely new to administrative duties. In the spring semester of UNCW’s 2013-14 academic year he served the Cameron School of Business as associate dean of undergraduate studies, and has been the chair of the school’s economics and finance department since August 2007. He’s been a member of Cameron’s faculty since 1998 and describes himself as a utility player.
“It will be a lot of fun; I’m looking forward to the challenge,” Burrus said of his new role, adding that he is very pleased that Randy Hanson, former accounting department chair, agreed to step in as interim associate dean.
As to what he and Hanson will focus on during their yearlong interim positions, Burrus pointed to business school’s overarching goal.
“Our vision is to have incredibly market-competitive graduates who can compete with grads anywhere and who can lead in the business community,” he said. “Part of the Cameron School vision – mine, the faculty’s – is to engage students in applied learning, in the context of having a faculty person there to guide them. There are lots of opportunities to do that: great international programs, lots of fantastic internships.”
Applied learning, Burrus said, also takes place through service learning and practical consulting projects.
He mentioned specifically a program led by finance faculty member Nivine Richie. The multi-disciplinary program consists of a spring semester course that is integrated with a trip to the Czech Republic, where the students apply what they have learned in a consultancy with a business.
That kind of consulting can also benefit businesses closer to home, Burrus said.
“Any companies out there looking for consultation can feel free to contact department chairs,” he added.
Burrus had high praise for the faculty.
“Throughout the campus, our faculty are exceptional. From all accounts, the faculty interact with and really love working with students,” he said. “In the CSB [Cameron School of Business], we like to think we do a good job, but we are constantly trying to improve. Our faculty do a real good job of stepping back and asking themselves ‘What do our students need in the marketplace?’ Our job is to support them. It’s a really fun and rewarding job.
“What is our philosophy here at the Cameron School of Business? Work is good; people can find a lot of fulfillment in working,” Burrus said. “Supplying goods and services that make life easier for people; exercising your creativity. Yes, there are opportunities to go into business and be creative. Our students will get skills, abilities – including the ability to think creatively. They are going to be able to help a business run smoothly, from books to systems to operations. These are noble goals.”
The interim dean said he knows parents want their children to be able to land a job when they finish their undergraduate education, but his plea is that Cameron students realize they can express themselves creatively in a business-related endeavor.
“It’s just like playing an instrument, painting or writing literature,” he said.
Will Burrus be a candidate for the permanent job of dean?
“I do have that option but don’t know if I will be,” he answered. “I’m unsure of the timeline for the search. Right now, the trustees are working on the chancellor search.”
Meanwhile, Burrus is training his sights on the job at hand.
“There’s a love for learning and a love for students among the faculty. They love to teach and do research,” he said. “At UNCW, that is going to continue, no matter who is in charge. That’s a core value. Our community has not been shaken by any of the university turnover. It’s going to be a good year.”