MS in Commerce Blog

An Interview with M.S. in Commerce Professor Ira Harris

M.S. in Commerce students Elizabeth Robertson and Jennings Brooks interview Professor Ira Harris, so prospective students can learn more about him and the program.

Ira Harris

Ira Harris (Photo by Tom Cogill)

By Elizabeth Robertson and Jennings Brooks (M.S. in Commerce ’22)

McIntire provides us with many unique opportunities to get to know our professors, and in an effort to portray this on the blog, we are featuring a series of conversations with our current M.S. in Commerce professors. First up is Professor Ira Harris. Professor Harris wears many hats as the director of our program and as our GCOM 7010 Strategy professor. We recently sat down with him for breakfast at the Oakhurst Inn to find out what his life is like outside of the program and to hear about some of his favorite M.S. in Commerce memories.

Jennings: Would you rather teach four half sessions (35 minutes each) or two double sessions (2.5 hours each)?

Professor Harris: Two double sessions.

Elizabeth: Would you rather retake Cost or Financial Accounting?

Professor Harris: Financial Accounting because I did Financial Accounting for 7 years, so it would be easier!

Jennings: Do you prefer our program’s weekly speaker series or town halls?

Professor Harris: Speaker series! Those are fun!

Elizabeth: From an unbiased perspective, strategy or systems?

Professor Harris: How do I get to a point of being unbiased? Strategy!

Jennings: If you were in our shoes, would you rather be in section 1 and start class early or be in section 2 and get out later?

Professor Harris: Oh, I don’t know how this will play in class, but I’d rather be in section 1, getting an early start.

Elizabeth: What do you think is the Charlottesville area’s best kept secret?

Professor Harris: This is top of mind because I spent three hours yesterday up on Skyline Drive. There were a fair amount of people up there yesterday, but my family and I always get a season pass to Shenandoah National Park.

Jennings: What takes up most of your time outside of teaching in the classroom?

Professor Harris: Outside of the classroom, I’d like to get clever with my response across the year, but it really relates to administrative things in progress. So, reading applications and planning for adjustments every year, which is something I’m doing right now.

Elizabeth: Do you remember specific applications of your current or past students?

Professor Harris: The answer is mostly no. I remember stories, but I can’t put the story together with the person’s name, which is a good thing, because when we do the storytelling choice day with Professor Patterson, I sometimes sit in, and I enjoy hearing a story that I remember reading in an application again.

Elizabeth: What is your favorite TV show?

Professor Harris: I would say currently it’s “S.W.A.T.” My all-time favorite would have to be “Monk.” I used to teach a critical thinking course for 12 years, and Monk’s character was overly analytical. And so, it was a very interesting display of really pure, balanced, critical thinking, and he would solve crimes.

Jennings: Last year, there was a meme challenge that went viral on social media of Bill Clinton sitting with four albums. Our generation would challenge their friends to post the meme, but change the albums in it to their four favorite albums. What four albums would you put into the meme generator, and why?

Professor Harris: The first one is quite easy: “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis. A favorite of mine and hundreds of millions of others: Earth Wind & Fire’s “That’s the Way of the World” album. For my third, I’ll go back to jazz: John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” album. The last one is kind of jazz fusion: David Sanborn and Bob James’s “Double Vision.”

Elizabeth: Would you rather go to a Charlottesville winery or brewery?

Professor Harris: I’ll go with a winery. Pippin Hill would be my favorite one in the area. We even used to do a project in Strategy with Pippin Hill a few years back.

Jennings: If you had a time machine and could travel back to any period in history, what period would you visit, and where would you go?

Professor Harris: Mine is something that I actually think about a fair amount, and this is predictable. The Industrial Revolution, because there was so much that was happening, things that were discovered and developed, people moving from the countryside into the city, and people experimenting with different approaches to different things. It’s a really fascinating time period.

Elizabeth: What’s your favorite sport to watch?

Professor Harris: College football. I follow Texas and Notre Dame.

Jennings: What is your pet peeve?

Professor Harris: Every year, there are students who arrive at McIntire and, essentially, decide that they would like for things to go differently. They would like for us to use a different approach. Yet, a few months prior to that, they chose McIntire for the very same approach that we use. These students get uncomfortable because we push them.

Elizabeth: What has been your favorite non-Global Immersion Experience (GIE) location that you have traveled to?

Professor Harris: I’ll go with skiing in Canada. And this was a while ago, but the safety standards in Canada were much different than in the United States. And so just as far as adrenaline, the experience, and being in touch with nature, it was awesome and a different experience skiing there than in the U.S.

Jennings: What is your favorite holiday?

Professor Harris: Thanksgiving, because it’s so family oriented and focused on coming back home and that sort of gathering. And there’s not very much of a commercial element to it.

Elizabeth: Are you a dog or cat person?

Professor Harris: Definitely dogs. That’s an easy one.

Jennings: There’s a big group of people in our program that like to play chess. What’s your favorite board or card game?

Professor Harris: When I was your age, I used to play backgammon a lot, but it’s been decades since I played it. So probably as far as card games go, I would say spades. It’s a big game in Black culture. There are two versions, and it comes with a lot of trash talk.

Elizabeth: You can take three people to dinner from any era, dead or alive. Who is going with you?

Professor Harris: Well, so, of course, one of those is going to be a jazz artist. Even though Miles Davis was with the album covers, maybe I wouldn’t go to dinner with him because we might end up getting into trouble after dinner. One of my favorite basketball players growing up was Walt Frazier. So, I think he would be one. Jackie Robinson and Nina Simone would be my other two. She had all sorts of problems and struggles with mental health, but she had an impact far beyond what even she appreciated.

Jennings: What’s a movie that made you sad?

Professor Harris: On the first day of class, you all heard me talking about how I love the “Fast and Furious” movies. So “Fast and Furious 7” would be my answer, when they had to write Paul Walker’s character out of the plot.

Elizabeth: If you weren’t living in Charlottesville, where would you live?

Professor Harris: Chicago is one of my favorite places. We lived there for three years. But then every time I go back, I’m just like, there’s a great feel to the city.

Jennings: What is your morning routine?

Professor Harris: I start with my devotion. Then shower, coffee, read The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. And then I read email messages from overnight to figure out what has happened with students while I was asleep! For most of the semester, my morning alarm is set to 5:30 a.m.

Elizabeth: When Chic Thompson spoke to us, he asked us to think about what we would never do and then consider trying it to break our patterns. What is one thing that you would never do?

Professor Harris: I’m a planner. And I would never quit a job and move without really knowing what the next step is. And there certainly are lots of examples of people doing that and it working out for them, but I just don’t think I could do that.

Jennings: Would you rather dine out or cook at home?

Professor Harris: I would rather cook at home! I am the breakfast and brunch person in our house!

Elizabeth: Would you rather go to the M.S. in Commerce “Comm Prom” or the Kickball Tournament?

Professor Harris: Kickball Tournament.

Jennings: What’s your favorite location to go to on a GIE trip?

Professor Harris: I’ll be specific with just the location. I’ll go with Krakow, Poland. I love Krakow. There are a few reasons why I like it. Typically, the Europe itinerary includes a real mix of cities. I try to choose places students wouldn’t go probably individually or as a family. And when they see Poland on the trip, they will sometimes get upset and say, “Why are you wasting a location going to Poland?” Then we get there, and after a couple of days, the students say, “Now I understand, and it has become my favorite city.” Krakow is interesting and very surprising, so I think the surprising part of it is one of the reasons why I love it.

Elizabeth: If you had no responsibilities, and you knew money wouldn’t matter and your family could go with you anywhere, what would you be doing right now?

Professor Harris: Just hanging out on the beach is too easy, so probably just traveling around becoming a nomad both domestic and international. When in the States, I’d probably be in an RV just driving around.

Jennings: Is there something about your past experience or your history that you wish students knew about you or that you haven’t had the opportunity to tell them in the classroom yet?

Professor Harris: My grandfather was a carpenter, and my dad would always do all of his own work, welding or carpentry. And so, because of that, there are a lot of things that I do myself rather than paying somebody else if I’ve got the time. When I’m doing a lot of my projects, I don’t look very much like a professor. My wife refers to it as my “dirty work.”

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