It’s Monday morning, Sept. 18, at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. The dean’s parking spot is empty. So is the dean’s office.
It’s Dhiren Thakker’s first day as the interim dean of the School, and he is still in his office on the third floor of Kerr Hall. His car is sitting in its usual place in the deck rather than the front-row spot reserved for the dean.
Thakker said he is a couple weeks away from physically stepping into the place of Bob Blouin, Pharm.D., the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s new provost and dean of the School from 2003 until last week, but his mind is clearly focused on the job ahead.
“Nothing stops,” Thakker said. “The role of an dean is to be the dean. We will continue to pursue opportunities for growth, partnership and expanding our global initiatives. We’re not putting on the brakes; we are not changing our trajectory.”
Thakker is a 20-year member of the School’s faculty and a prolific scientist and educator. As one of Blouin’s closest advisers, he was handpicked by Blouin to take the reins.
“There was no other choice,” Blouin said. “When I was offered the position of provost, I called my wife first. Then I called Dhiren to ask him if he would be willing to serve as interim dean. Much of the success the School has had over the past decade and half is due to the leadership, vision and hard work of Dhiren Thakker, particularly in research, education, global engagement, and entrepreneurship and biotech start‐ups.”
Interim dean is not a caretaker position for Thakker. His job, he said, is to continue moving the School forward.
“I am so ecstatic about the progress this School has made over the past 20 years,” he said. “The really amazing thing is that we can be even better. We’re not stopping.”
The Move to South Building
As Dean Blouin makes the transition to Provost Blouin, his new office is in South Building directly across the street from the Old Well.
The can be thought of as the dean of deans at Carolina. Blouin is now the chief academic officer of the University and reports directly to Chancellor Carol Folt, Ph.D. He leads the University in its academic planning and in the setting of academic values, policies and practices. He is responsible for providing guidance to the dean of each school, is the chair of the Deans’ Council and is accountable for regularly evaluating the deans, vice provosts and selected vice chancellors, as well as candidates for those positions.
The provost is the chair of the University’s budget committee and makes major resource allocation decisions for state funding and overhead funds. He is responsible for fostering global initiatives in the University and oversees the conduct of research and scholarship, and works to stimulate a high level of scholarly productivity on the campus.
“As provost, it will be my job to see which of the successes we have had at the School can be replicated or applied at the University level,” Blouin said.
Blouin said he will remain closely associated with the , likely as a member of its board, and will serve as an adviser to Thakker. It is also his job as provost to initiate and oversee the search for a new dean for the School. He will create and charge a search committee made up of key stakeholders, a process that will probably take a year or so but won’t be rushed. The University will engage a search firm to manage the process, Thakker said.
“I have no doubt top notch people will be bidding to apply,” he said. “I am not worried about a shortage of candidates. We will be casting a broad net.”
A 20-Year Veteran
When Thakker got Blouin’s call, he said he had to answer yes.
“I absolutely love this place. Saying yes was a no brainer. I had to do it.”
Thakker came to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1996 after a career in research at the National Institutes of Health and in drug discovery at Glaxo, Inc., now GSK. Just two years after joining the School, he became the associate dean of graduate education and research. He has taken on other significant roles, including serving as the associate dean for entrepreneurial development and global engagement, director of the Campbell Faculty Mentoring Program and the Howard Q. Ferguson Distinguished Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences. He has mentored dozens of graduate students, postdocs and visiting international scholars.
One of Thakker’s most recent and most powerful contributions to the School has been his personal and professional investment in the program. Under his direction, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of students participating in an international experience, and the number of available countries has tripled. Students can travel to experience the health-care system in nine different countries, including Malawi, England, India, Japan and Australia. Thakker and his wife, Kailas Thakker, so believed in the program that they to the Global Pharmacy Scholarship Fund.
Thakker is a fellow of the American Association of Pharmaceutical Sciences, and his research program has been awarded more than $4 million in grants. His research focuses on the mechanisms of drug transport, the metabolism of drugs and other substances foreign to the body In 2003, he cofounded , along with School faculty members Kim Brouwer, Pharm.D., Ph.D., and Gary Pollack, Ph.D. is the author of more than publications and is listed as co‐inventor on half a dozen patents.
Thakker holds a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Kansas and a master’s in pharmaceutical chemistry from Columbia University. He came to the United States after earning his undergraduate degree in pharmacy at Bombay University in Bombay, India (now Mumbai).