Interview: The Professor Who Was Secretly Recorded — Then Let Go — By UNC

MBA students leaving McColl Hall at Kenan-Flagler Business School.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is not renewing the contract of an economics professor whose classes were secretly recorded in April in response to student complaints about course content.

Larry Chavis told Poets&Quants this week that he received a letter from Kenan-Flagler Business School dean Mary Margaret Frank notifying him that his yearly contract, which ends on June 30, would not be renewed. Chavis has taught at the B-school for 18 years.

“There was no reason given,” Chavis told P&Q. “Technically, they have not renewed my contract. But, I think, the layman’s understanding of that is that I was fired.”

Four of Chavis’ classes were recorded in April without his permission, an action that appeared to run afoul of Kenan-Flagler’s own IT policy. Since then, a university provost seemed to support writing a formal policy, according to the university’s student newspaper, The Assembly.

Larry Chavis

P&Q reached out to a UNC spokeswoman with several questions but hadn’t received a response by the time of publication.

UNIVERSITY TO CREATE FORMAL RECORDING POLICY

On April 22, Chavis received an email from Kenan-Flagler senior associate dean Christian Lundblad notifying Chavis that he was under a formal review process in response to student “reports concerning class content and conduct within (Chavis’) class over the last few months.”

The letter also said that four of Chavis’ April classes had been recorded on the classroom’s installed Panopto camera. “Notice is not required to record classes, and we do record classes without notice in response to concerns raised by students,” Lundblad wrote in the email.

However, Chavis previously told P&Q that this statement appeared to clash with Kenan-Flagler’s own IT policies, as posted on the school’s website under “Panopto Terms of Use.” The policy states:

  • 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.”

According to the Digital Media Law Project, a guide for journalists and citizens navigating various media law issues, North Carolina is a one-party consent state. That means at least one party of the “conversation” must consent to recording. It’s unclear how that would pertain to a lecture at a public university, but one could interpret that to mean the parties to the “conversation” are the professor and anyone in the classroom, including students. But, if Kenan-Flagler administrators turned on the recording remotely, without knowledge of the professors or the students, then no parties gave consent.

In response to P&Q questions on the discrepancy, a Kenan-Flagler spokeswoman previously said that the university did not have a formal policy on filming classrooms without faculty permission, but “follows applicable laws.” It did not answer P&Q’s follow-up questions about what those applicable laws were.

On May 24, UNC-Chapel Hill’s provost J. Christopher Clemens told the Faculty Executive Committee that he supported developing a formal policy for filming professors’ lectures, according to a story in the Assembly. Clemens also reportedly advised university deans to contact him before recording professor lectures.

CHAVIS HAS BEEN A PUBLIC CRITIC OF UNC

Chavis, a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, has been an outspoken critic of Kenan-Flagler and the university on topics like race, gender, LBGTQ+ issues, and pay disparities for several years. He has publicly called for more faculty diversity at Kenan-Flagler, telling the school newspaper in 2022 that the B-school was “the worst of the worst” when it came to diversity and inclusion. He was previously 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, comments which he later amended.

Similarly, Chavis has not shied away from talking about his recorded classes and formal review. He has given several interviews, including to P&Q, The Assembly, and TV station WRAL-TV. He’s also written several Linked-in posts.

Lundblad ended his April 22 letter telling Chavis that a meeting would be scheduled to discuss the reported concerns when the review was complete. Chavis says he was never contacted to schedule such a meeting. Instead, he got an email from dean Frank that his contract would not be renewed.

“I’m still trying to get my mind around how everything happened so quickly. The first letter came on April 22, and in less than two months I am without a job,” says Chavis who earned his PhD in economics from Stanford Graduate School of Management. “The speed with which it happened without having a clear understanding of what happened.”

CHAVIS’ FORMAL REVIEW

On May 20, Chavis was given a four-page confidential copy of the review of his undergraduate International Development class, the one that was secretly recorded the month before. The evaluation included information gleaned from “a thorough examination of the course syllabi, student reports to the UBP, an examination of recent student written evaluations, and two in-person class observations,” according to the evaluation. The four recorded classes were not considered, the report says.

The evaluation refers to a “misalignment” between the course description and content, including complaints from students that Chavis too often talked about his own life experiences and how he’d been wronged by colleagues and the business school itself, deviating from course content. Some students reported feeling “physically unsafe in the clas as Prof Chavis stated he was going to ‘bun this b*tch down,’” the report reads.

Chavis sent a point-by-point response to the evaluation on the same day, which he also posted to his Linkedin page. He says he never heard back from school administrators. He notes that he believes the evaluation cherry-picks the worst of the student evaluations while ignoring the positive comments. He also maintains that the ‘bun this b*tch down’ comment was taken out of context.

Chavis tells P&Q that he reached out to administrators repeatedly about the meeting he was promised to talk about the review and other issues but has not heard back. While he says he has received some support from people from other schools on his Linkedin posts, he’s not felt the same from his Kenan-Flagler colleagues.

“Not many people that I’ve worked with currently have reached out, publicly or privately. There won’t be a going away party,” he says. “No gold watches. Eighteen years is a long time to work somewhere.”

DON’T MISS: KENAN-FLAGLER PROFESSORS SAYS SCHOOL SECRETLY RECORDED HIS CLASSES AND WILL THE ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT COST THIS COLUMBIA B-SCHOOL PROF HIS CAREER?

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