2006 Outstanding Faculty Staff Award
Hayden Bently “Benny” Renwick ’66 (MED)
Decades before scientists made cloning possible, Hayden Renwick had figured out how to do it. When he was made the assistant director in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions in 1969, he made a commitment to increasing the enrollment of African-American students. He traveled to many high schools and junior colleges around the state to recruit top black students. Though he couldn’t appear personally at every school, he identified black students at Carolina who would be good representatives, arranged for them to borrow state cars and sent them out to speak in his stead. Prospective Tar Heels were able to hear from the source what it meant to study at Carolina.
“Bennie was committed to seeing black students get in, flourish and graduate,” said Michael Moseley ’74, who was recruited by Renwick in 1969 and later worked for him in the admissions office. “It was a personal effort.”
When Bennie was hired by the admissions office, Carolina had only about 100 African-American students. By the time he was promoted to associate dean in the new Office for Student Counseling in 1973, black student enrollment had topped 900. And once the students had enrolled, Dean Renwick made sure they succeeded.
Harry Jones ’72, one of the first students Bennie recruited, said it wasn’t unusual for him to appear at the dorm room door of a student who was struggling and have a talk with that student about what was what.
“Many of the students coming to Carolina had not been in an environment where they had to exercise real independence,” Harry said. “There wasn’t anybody beating you over the head saying you had to do your work. Dean Renwick played that role for students who needed it. He was a father figure to many of the kids there.”
Bennie again franchised himself by instituting a minority student tutorial program. Paula Newsome ’77 was one of the upperclassmen Bennie asked to be a student adviser, mentoring those who were just starting out at Carolina. Students from small towns, especially, found the large University to be impersonal. When Paula first made the dean’s list as a freshman, she was touched that Bennie took time to write a letter congratulating her.
“He took the ‘bigness’ out of the University and made it a community,” Paula said. “He made us feel we needed to be there, and if we worked hard, we could make it through.”
The environment at Carolina was not universally accepting of those first black students, Michael Moseley said. Working in the admissions office, Michael was able to see the kind of stress and strain Dean Renwick was under and how he dealt with that. Bennie continued to be very vocal in advocating for black students after he was promoted to special assistant to the chancellor.
Angela Bryant ’73, one of Bennie’s early recruits, said he never pursued advancement possibilities at other institutions, because of his deep love for the UNC students he served. She recalled he and his wife inviting students to their home for dinners and cookouts.
“He was the reassuring figure to students and parents who made UNC a sure choice during a time when choosing a predominantly white flagship university could be a great risk and an isolating choice,” Angela said. “He helped us overcome many of the obstacles we faced.”
Those relationships with “his” students didn’t end at graduation. Many students keep in touch with him, and as they have moved into professional practices on their own, Dean Renwick still sees them. His eye doctor and his attorney were students he recruited to Carolina.
The dean was loyal to students then, and he’s loyal to them now. To so many of them, Dean Renwick was a light on the Hill, a life raft