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Lee Roberts discusses priorities as UNC-Chapel Hill interim chancellor

Lee Roberts is UNC-Chapel Hill's interim chancellor. He took over for Kevin Guskiewicz, who stepped down from his role as chancellor last week.
Brianna Atkinson
Lee Roberts is UNC-Chapel Hill's interim chancellor. He took over for Kevin Guskiewicz, who stepped down from his role as chancellor last week.

Lee Roberts addressed the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees as the university’s interim chancellor for the first time this week.

He began on Jan. 12 — the same day Kevin Guskiewicz stepped down as former chancellor and a couple of days after UNC students returned for a new semester.

Roberts said one of his main priorities is to ensure a smooth transition as he continues into the role.

“I want to make sure students, faculty and staff have the resources that they need and going around meeting with as many folks as possible is part of doing that,” Roberts said. “But then, it’s important to make sure that we leave the institution better than we found it.”

Roberts noted two initiatives he and board members discussed this week that are important to fulfilling that aspiration.

One is to improve existing classroom facilities. Roberts said that there are many older labs and classrooms that are not necessarily suitable for teaching all subjects.

“There's a lot of money, and a lot of time and attention and energy that go into building new buildings. That's the most visible thing that happens on any campus,” Roberts said. “But how are we using our existing facilities? Are we doing the best job that we can?”

The other initiative is improving campus safety, after an Aug. 28 shooting where a graduate student killed a professor on campus.

In the aftermath, Roberts said the university has hired an outside firm to conduct an “after-action report.”

Roberts said he expects for the report to have threat prevention, assessment and response recommendations for the university. He also said the board of trustees is considering whether to make active shooter training mandatory, especially for faculty.

Another priority for Roberts is to continue Guskiewicz’s outreach efforts to various communities — whether geographically, demographically or otherwise — around the state.

“There was a lot of conversation about this in the wake of the Supreme Court decision obviously,” Roberts said. “We need to make sure that everybody in this state, and of course, more broadly, recognizes that this is an institution for them. Where they can belong, where they are welcome and where they can be successful.”

Roberts noted UNC-Chapel Hill’s new free tuition program for some in-state students, which Guskiewicz announced in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned affirmative action. The program waives tuition and fee costs for incoming in-state undergraduate students whose families make less than $80,000 a year.

He said these funds and outreach are important considering what areas applications come in from the state – some counties have upwards of 3,000 students applying per year where others have none.

“Within those counties, we need to make sure that we're getting a freshman class and incoming class that looks like our state,” Roberts said. “We have one of the most dynamic, diverse, quickly growing states in the country and we need to keep pace with that.”

In the board of trustees meeting, Roberts said applications to Carolina have increased by 15%.

As the campus brings in new students, Roberts said the university needs to do a better job of letting them know about access to mental health resources. He said the university also needs to continue to develop those resources and invest in them.

Roberts said as he undergoes these initiatives, it is also time to start thinking about the university’s strategic plan. The university is about four years into its current five-year plan.

He said the next plan could include any number of things, from building a robust strategy around artificial intelligence to investing into the university’s building infrastructure. He said he looks forward to working with the board of trustees on the new strategic plan.

Roberts did not say whether he would be presenting himself as a candidate for the permanent chancellor position.

Brianna Atkinson is WUNC’s 2024 Fletcher Fellow and covers higher education in partnership with Open Campus.
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