Building a Winning Team: Sports-Loving Operations Professor Leaves Legacy of Faculty Diversity, Excellence


By Dave Hendrick

Newswise — Things Professor Jim Freeland recalls about a faculty recruiting trip to the University of Virginia Darden School of Business more than 40 years ago: one, knowing that his wife had been ill, a Darden faculty member offered the use of an alumnus’ private plane for the final leg of his journey if it would ease the Freelands’ travel; two, and more meaningfully, the incredible engagement of the Darden students he met.

Both were indicators that this school in Virginia, a state where the Kansas City native had never set foot, was a little bit different than what the then-Stanford professor was used to.

Freeland, who will retire from the Darden School at the end of the 2018–19 academic year, did not make use of the private plane, but the engagement and relationships with students would go on to blossom for decades.

In a typical recruiting trip, a prospective professor would likely be asked to spend the day with the faculty and present a research paper. When Freeland came to Darden, he was asked if he would like to teach a class, and was thrown in to Professor Ed Davis’ “Quantitative Analysis” course.

More than 40 years later, Freeland still sounds surprised at his reception.

“I was just blown away with the students. They were just so nice and so welcoming,” said Freeland. “They were really thrilled that I was here teaching this class!”

In other places he had taught, Freeland said a question might be answered with blank stares, maybe a hand or two. At Darden, he was seeing 20 hands rising to help further the conversation.

He also learned that his prospective colleagues liked teaching and liked talking about it. In many schools, Freeland said the only conversations around teaching pertained to how much of it you had to do before you could go do your research. Not at Darden.

“For the first time in my career, people were really genuinely interested in teaching, so that really impressed me,” Freeland said.

An operations and supply chain management expert, Freeland taught core and elective courses in the full-time MBA and Executive MBA programs, and played a role in raising the School’s reputation for research. A productive publisher at Stanford, Freeland, who directed the Darden doctoral program for a period in the 1980s, said he was hired in part for his research experience and reputation, becoming part of a wave of new hires with an interest and aptitude for academic research.

Rather than funneling research largely into new cases, Freeland described a cultural shift in which professors began to seek publication in influential journals. “I didn’t cause that to happen, but it’s fun to think that you had a small role in it,” he said.

A Champion for Faculty Diversity

Having made a name for himself as a researcher and teacher, Freeland’s next act at Darden was likely his most influential. His 19-year tenure as senior associate dean for faculty and research, from 1993 to 2012, coincided with a sharp increase in faculty diversity.

When he took the role in 1993, the School had 46 faculty members, all white men save for five women and one under-represented minority. The one professor with an international background was from Europe.

“We had some significant diversity challenges,” Freeland said. “There was a strong desire to increase the number of women and minorities on our faculty, and we were probably one of the only major business schools that didn’t really have any international faculty.”

A concerted effort, jumpstarted by Dean Lee Higdon, led to a steady diversifying of the Darden faculty, with the 72 faculty members at the end of Freeland’s tenure as senior associate dean far more representative of global business. The number of women rose from five to 16, for instance.

Beyond the demographics, Freeland notes the addition of people who became core to the School’s fabric: professors such as Susan ChaplinskyJeanne LiedtkaSankaran “Venkat” Venkataraman, who succeeded Freeland as senior associate dean for faculty and research; Luann Lynch; and Senior Associate Dean for Degree Programs Ron Wilcox, among scores of others.

“It’s very gratifying to look at these people we hired and where they are now,” Freeland said. “The people who are in leadership positions are people we brought in while I was in the dean’s office. They are great leaders, and I’m really proud of that.”

Professor in the Class, Sportsman on the Field

Freeland also leaves a legacy of faculty-student friendship and rivalry forged on baseball diamonds and volleyball courts. If there was a game or sporting event to be had, he was usually part of it.

Jim Freeland's softball team

Professor Jim Freeland and the DOGs (Darden Old Guys) were a “very competitive” intramural squad, the retiring professor said.

“I loved to play stuff and there is always a group of students who like to, too,” said Freeland. “At the picnics, I would play volleyball the whole time.”

Freeland said he and a group of faculty colleagues were not above skirting the lines of fair play, often finding the Darden students with athletic backgrounds and recruiting them to join intramural squads.

“We won the North Grounds championships a couple of years,” said Freeland. “We were very competitive.”

Freeland also devoted a significant amount of his free time outside of Darden to competitive baseball, coaching at nearby Western Albemarle High School and using his strong arm and pinpoint control to help win two World Series in national adult recreation baseball leagues.

“I have pitched at almost every Major League spring training complex in the country, both in Arizona and in Florida,” said Freeland. “That is one of the greatest thrills of my life. That was so much fun.”

Freeland is proud of his accomplishments at Darden and on the mound, but says he sees his past through a new prism following the unexpected death of his son Ross, a consultant turned high school math teacher, from stomach cancer in 2016.

Freeland said his energy level and general enthusiasm never fully recovered, and he has a new outlook on what truly matters.

“Everything just feels different,” he said.

His legacy secure, Freeland will remain involved in Darden and the community after retiring from full-time teaching. He says he hopes to continue teaching the Aspen Award-winning class on economic inequality and social mobility with Professor Ed Freeman, and hopes to become more involved in the Darden Prison Program.

He and his wife recently moved from Albemarle County to Charlottesville, downsizing from 16 acres to a townhouse, putting lean principles to work in organizing his material possessions in a smaller space, and, for the first time ever, enjoying high-speed Internet at home.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D. and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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