Taking the School to New Heights

As Dean, Bill Campbell literally and figuratively went to great heights for the School

Story by Brooks Dareff | photo credit Ryan McDaniel | Published August 8, 2023

Bill Campbell headshot outside

The sky opened up when Bill Campbell, the School’s eighth dean, high jumped 5-9 ½ to win the Oregon boys 2A championship in 1960. “The fact that I won that, and I was from this tiny place, gave me a level of confidence that was juicing,” Bill recalls. “It was amazing because I knew I could be as good as anybody else. It didn’t matter where I came from. Whether I was sitting in a chemistry class or anywhere else.”

That ‘tiny place’ was Culver, in central Oregon, with its high school of 47 students drawn from a few communities that included the Campbell farm: 400 arid acres that started as hills, rocks and untillable sagebrush when Bill’s father purchased it for $1 in a Homestead Act lottery open to World War II veterans. When the water came, as the government promised, Bill’s father capitalized, and Bill learned valuable lessons.

“He was a creative guy—a scientist really—who through a series of Rube Goldberg contraptions brought water to 300+ acres,” says Bill, retired now in the northern Cascades of central Washington. “Any problem-solving skills I inherited or learned were conceived in the cauldron of trying to make a piece of dirt produce a valuable crop. It’s amazing how that skill can be transferable to academic research and university administration.” Fast forward, and that skill helped launch the UNC School of Pharmacy from ranking as the nation’s fifteenth-best to the second-best pharmacy school over the course of Bill’s 10-year tenure as dean from 1993 to 2003.

That meteoric ascension rested on many achievements, but infusing it all was a transformation of the culture and commitment to greatness guided by Bill’s vision and resolve. “There had been long-standing faculty collaborations across campus between the pharmacy school and other schools, but less inside the school,” says Dean Angela Kashuba. “Dean Campbell brought more intentionality to interdisciplinary collaborations within the School. I believe Bill’s efforts started the School on the path of innovation.”

Bill’s academic path began at Oregon State University, where pharmacy education, reflective of the time, consisted of “memorization of largely irrelevant material.” Which incensed Bill, and after a stint stewing in community pharmacy, he was encouraged  by his classmate, Karen Allen (now wife, Karen Campbell), to blaze a trail to change pharmacy education. So Bill completed a masters and doctorate in pharmaceutical science at OSU and Purdue University, respectively, then returned to OSU to join the pharmacy faculty. Next was University of Washington, where he became a department chair, followed by deanship of Auburn University’s pharmacy school.

Each were good fits for a time, Bill says, but not “perfect” like Carolina. “If you want to be in a university that has a mission to serve people that’s more than just words on paper, then the University of North Carolina is the gold standard.” Bill wasn’t looking to leave Auburn, but his dean at Washington counseled: “they need you and you need them.” Among the School’s needs, Bill says, were “a couple of glaring, glaring things”:

  • Renovation of Beard Hall, “which was a relic.” The School had for years “struggled to get priority for capital construction funds to build a new school.” Under Bill’s leadership, renovation secured priority from the Legislature.
  • Doubling the size of the school by building what became Kerr Hall (opened in 2002), without which the school “wasn’t going to be anything more than basic for a mid-tier school of pharmacy.”

Also “lurking” was transitioning the professional degree from a bachelors to the PharmD. Accreditation standards allowed many schools to convert with little change in the curriculum—which neither Bill, the faculty, nor the university would tolerate—and without attention to the pharmacists who schools relied on as teachers and trainers. “We turned that model upside down,” Bill says. “Kim Brouwer and others on our faculty went out on AHEC planes, gave lectures, we brought pharmacists into Chapel Hill, and our transition was not to provide [the PharmD] immediately to students in Chapel Hill but to those 5,000 pharmacists out there who were our alumni ,” he says. “And, of course, when we did that we had all the support there for the students.”

At the peak of a mountain, Bill Campbell holds up a Carolina penantThat PharmD transition and updating the promotion and tenure process—“so that it really worked the way it should”—dominated Bill’s first five years. Then came commitments to building a graduate and research program and raising funds for Kerr Hall, for which Bill literally went to great heights. In his off time, Bill famously carried UNC pennants to 10,000-foot-plus volcanic peaks, but he also packed Glaxo, Eli Lilly, and Banks Kerr flags (among others). Back on the ground, he presented photos to CEOs, first pleased, then squeezed: “‘By the way,’” Bill would say, “‘I risked my life to get this picture for you and you have an opportunity to make a transformational gift to the school.’ My average was a million dollars on those pictures.”

The “pivot” to Bill’s second five years was “the Vanguard, meaning at the cutting edge of change.” When Bill became dean, he told the chancellor that only if the chancellor in 1998 told Bill he was the nation’s best would Bill commit to another five years. In 1997, Bill created the Vanguard Team, which in turn challenged faculty to make the School the nation’s best: supreme in both sponsored research and in the creation of progressive pharmaceutical care practices. “And that’s still fairly unique,” Kim Brouwer says. “There aren’t that many schools that can claim they have strength in both areas.”

Skepticism greeted that stated goal at the Vanguard’s first retreat, Kim says: “Many people kind of laughed at it.” Bemusement abated when Bill explained that every administrator would be retitled as acting, with their successful review resting on their commitment to the goal. “And we turned over a number of positions,” Bill says. “It was brutal, it was painful, it was difficult, but it had to be done if we were really going to reach the next higher level.” And Bill set the stage for the highest level. “I always attribute the success that we have today to his vision,” Kim says.

When the Pharmacy Foundation asked Bill what he’d like for his retirement, Bill proposed, then drafted a mentoring program, which $1 million in fundraising later was launched in 2006 as the Bill and Karen Campbell Faculty Mentoring Program. Professor emeritus Hal Kohn, the program’s founding director, calls it “an enduring gift [that] is emblematic of Bill Campbell’s efforts to mentor us all.” Notes Kim, the current director: “Former mentees are now associate and full professors, serve as mentors, and are in leadership roles in our School.” That the program bears both Campbells’ names isn’t lost on one of Bill’s unofficial mentees, Tina Brock, who in 1995 started her first teaching job at the School, and says, “I felt like I was a pilot mentee of Karen’s as well.” The mentorship program, in Angela’s words, is Dean Campbell’s “lasting legacy.”