Editor's note: This faculty profile is from UNCW’s ‘We Are UNCW’ series and was posted on September 5, but has been updated for accuracy.
When Stephen Harper officially retired at the end of the spring 2018 semester, his career at UNCW spanned six chancellors, four deans and more than 40 years of teaching students the finer points of business and entrepreneurship. Coincidentally, Harper, the Duke Energy/Betty Cameron Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship in the Cameron School of Business, celebrated his 70th birthday just two months after UNCW observed the 70th anniversary of the date it first opened its doors, Sept. 4, 1947.
Harper arrived on campus in 1976. “A year after I joined the faculty, Chancellor [William] Wagoner asked me how long I would be here before I would leave to climb the academic institutional ladder, which is quite customary,” Harper said. “I told him, ‘I plan to die here. I am totally committed to UNCW.’ He almost fell out of his chair. I should have indicated I ultimately plan to ‘retire’ here.”
Harper made his professional choice after visiting the campus in 1972 while he was still working on his Ph.D. in management at Arizona State University.
“I’m a believer in ‘intrapersonal communication’ – asking yourself tough questions,” he said. In having that crucial conversation with himself, he followed the path that led to a small regional university that had only recently had joined the University of North Carolina system. As he saw it, UNCW presented an opportunity to contribute significantly from the start.
“I did not need to go back to a large university and be one of a large number of green professors,” Harper said. “It was clear this was a place that had the values I had. It saw the future.”
That future involved expansive growth in both enrollment and physical size. In his first year, UNCW enrolled fewer than 4,000 students, and 85 percent of freshmen were from New Hanover and other nearby counties. Today, more than 16,000 students attend UNCW.
Through numerous administrative changes, the addition and diversification of academic programs and the growth of the individual schools and colleges, Harper said one important factor has remained constant.
“UNCW continues to be a special place. Its commitment to teaching, especially at the undergraduate level, is exceptional and unwavering.” It is the reason he came to UNCW and is the reason he has remained.
“I am graduating with the Class of 2018,” he said. Retirement suggests an ending, he explained, whereas graduation signals new adventures ahead – which he fully intends to pursue.
Philanthropic gifts to the Management Department support outstanding students, faculty and programs in the Cameron School of Business.
- Tricia Vance