Thursday, May 26, 2016

Lars Schoultz's retirement

I spent yesterday at UNC Chapel Hill at a great event honoring the retirement of my Ph.D. advisor Lars Schoultz. If you seriously study either Latin American history or politics, you will know who he is. Lars wrote several classic works, with Beneath the United States probably being the best known.

What people might not know is that he was an incredible mentor. There were 17 of us former graduate students who came from all over (including Chile and Uruguay) to honor him, plus many others who gave impromptu remarks. We former grad students all had short prepared statements and what became clear immediately is that we all were saying variations of the same thing: Lars proved that rigor and kindness can and should go together in academia.

Lars was a top scholar at a top research university and he expected everyone to do high level work. But when you talked to him, you knew he cared and wanted you to succeed. He wanted to know how your family was doing, how your mental health was, even while he used his red pen (this got mentioned a lot, including by me!) to kindly show you how to improve your argument and writing.

I talked about how academia can be a machine, and how Lars always brought it back to the importance of the individual. One current UNC faculty member (who knows him only as a colleague, not as a doctoral advisor) talked about how sometimes on Fridays around 5 pm Lars would wander around asking people why they were in their offices. "Go home," he told them. Yes, you need to get work done, but you need other life too.

We'd all be better off if these were the messages academia typically sent.





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