2007 Harvey E. Beech Outstanding Alumni Award
Herbert L. Davis ’73 (MS)
Heaven help the college admissions officer who doesn’t admit some outspoken mother’s precious child. As associate director of undergraduate admissions for some 30 years, Herb Davis ’73 has dealt with plenty of affronted parents demanding to know why their pride and joy didn’t make the cut. Herb’s unflappability has made him the go-to person whenever steam starts coming out of a parent’s ears. His co-workers are only too happy to send him their most challenging customers.
Harold Woodard ’78, associate dean of academic counseling, remembers an angry mother storming into his office because her son had been put on the wait list, and she demanded to know why. Woodard gave her directions to Herb’s office, and told her if she wasn’t satisfied after talking with Herb, she should come back and he’d take care of it.
“Then,” Harold said, “I waited. But she didn’t come back. So I called Herb and said, ‘She didn’t come back. What did you do?’ And he said, ‘I just talked to her.’
“I don’t know what Herb said to her,” Harold recalled, “but I can only imagine how many people like her he must have talked to in the past 30 years.”
A calming influence like Herb is in big demand in the hot seat of admissions, where tensions run high. Herb’s weakness for high-tech gadgets keeps him buzzing, beeping and vibrating as his various cell phones, BlackBerries and BlueTooths clamor for his attention and remind him of appointments. For a while, he kept a bicycle parked outside his office; he was so in demand, he needed a faster way of getting places than just walking.
A holder of three Carolina degrees, Herb started his academic career as a zoology instructor, then as an academic adviser. He joined Carolina’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions in 1978 and never left. During his tenure, he has been instrumental in the significant increase in the recruitment, enrollment and retention of minority students at Carolina, said Lois Deloatch ’81, one of his former co-workers. Herb’s confidence and faith in the potential of minority students often made the difference in whether the student received a thick envelope or thin.
“Because of his own humble beginnings,” Lois said, “Herb could articulate to administrators the importance of viewing candidates within the context of their personal circumstances.”
Herb grew up in Jamesville, a small town in rural MartinCounty. Therein may be the source of his success and stamina in a position that grants opportunities to others, said Harold Woodard, who also grew up in rural North Carolina. “If ever you wanted motivation to stay focused on your education, it was the specter of returning to that small-town environment where chances for upward mobility were not as plentiful,” Harold said. “You buckle down when things get tough, because the alternatives are not that attractive.”
Stephen Farmer, director of undergraduate admissions, watches a steady stream of alumni come back to visit Herb every year. “Their respect and affection for him couldn’t be clearer,” Steve said. “He’s warm, funny and helpful. He’s touched the lives of thousands of students, either by recruiting them or mentoring them once they’ve enrolled.”
Herb serves as the faculty adviser to Omega Psi Phi fraternity. Off campus, his commitment to community service shows in the numerous nonprofit organizations he is involved with, including service as president of the PTA at HillsideHigh School in Durham, where his daughter is a senior.
Because of his longevity in the admissions office, Herb is a recognizable goodwill ambassador. Parents, guidance counselors and mentors know that applicants will get a close, fair look from Herb. But he bears the brunt when one of their prize pupils is turned down.
Archie Ervin, director of the Office for Minority Affairs, recalled when the University rescinded the offer of admission to a high school student who achieved a 1600 on his SAT but blew off his senior year. “Dr. Davis became the story,” Archie said, “because his rationale for rescinding the offer became public. He wasn’t bashful about explaining why senioritis can get you in bad trouble.
“Factual, patient, let’s just deal with this, don’t sweat the small stuff, that’s Herb.”