For nearly 25 years, The PhD Project has been changing the face of business academia by nearly quintupling the number of African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans in front of the classroom. And those professors will influence countless undergraduates for decades to come.
As profound as that scale of influence is, The PhD Project is now attaining an even higher level of impact—minorities taking roles as deans, department chairs and other positions in academia.
On July 1, 2018, The PhD Project marked a new milestone—its first professor to become a college president.
On that day, Dr. Miles Davis, an attendee of the second PhD Project Annual Conference back in 1995, became president of Linfield College in Oregon. He is one of 139 PhD Project professors, as of Spring 2018, to have advanced into administration, and the first to reach the very pinnacle. Since 2012, Dr. Davis had been dean of the business school at Shenandoah University, and previously chair of its management department.
The significance of minority professors rising to leadership is explained by Dr. Matrecia S.L. James, dean of the St. Bonaventure University School of Business, using Dr. Davis as an example:
“He does his job well and thus creates new opportunities for himself. These opportunities then pave the way for others and raise the veil, making the possibilities clear. People of color—African Americans, Native Americans and Hispanics—can see that what were once viewed as major obstacles are merely stepping stones on the path to success.”
Dr. Davis is emphatic in acknowledging and thanking The PhD Project for its central role in his 23-year evolution from businessperson to professor to college president.
“The PhD Project put me on the road to where I am,” he said. “Unquestionably in my mind, without it I would not be where I am.”
Recalling an upbringing and early adulthood in which he never knew a professor or anyone working at a business school, he said, “I had no context for any of this.”
By encouraging successful minority business people to become professors, and connecting them to minority mentors and role models, Dr. Davis said The PhD Project provided that context. More than offering information and direction, it gave him access and understanding of the academic world. After he became a professor, The PhD Project further supported Dr. Davis through its Project AHEAD, which encourages minority business professors to become administrators, department chairs, program heads and deans.
As a professor, dean and now a president, he says, he exemplifies the PhD Project mission: “If I am Black or Hispanic, and I see a person holding this position in higher education, it makes me feel that I am capable of achieving it also.”
Dr. Davis says he is also living evidence of another PhD Project belief—that it is powerful for minority professors to influence students in the classroom, but also valuable to impact entire academic programs and colleges by advancing to administration positions. He notes that in such roles, academics “impact the overall system” at a college—from policy and direction to hiring decisions.
For example, there were no African-American business professors at Shenandoah when Dr. Davis became dean. There are now three.
Dean James praised the vision of Linfield College, a majority-serving institution in a state with an African-American population of two percent, in selecting Dr. Davis. “By recognizing the capabilities of this Black man and entrusting him with the reins of leadership, Linfield College has secured a great talent that is bound to add value to the school and change the face of academic leadership,” she said.
Dr. Davis earned his Ph.D. in human and organizational sciences from George Washington University, an M.A. in human resource development from Bowie State University, and a B.A. in communications from Duquesne University. After several years in the business sector, he discovered the then-new PhD Project and made his career switch.
“Now almost 23 years later I am a college president,” he said. “That is what The PhD Project has meant—it couldn’t be an overnight fix, it was a long term vision for changing academia. I am forever thankful for that.”