Trustees elect University of Arkansas’ first Black chancellor

Board votes to make interim Chancellor Charles Robinson the permanent head at UA-Fayetteville
Chancellor Charles Robinson speaks at the University of Arkansas. The UA Board of Trustees unanimously selected Robinson as chancellor on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022. (Russell Cothren/University of Arkansa)

Charles Robinson has become the first Black chancellor of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

The UA board of trustees unanimously voted for him to take on the role during its meeting Wednesday following a months-long debate.

Robinson has served as interim chancellor since August 2021 when he took over for acting Chancellor Bill Kincaid who was named to that post after the resignation of Chancellor Joe Steinmetz on June 18, 2021.

Board Chairman Cliff Gibson said he wanted to disabuse anyone who thought Robinson’s selection was affirmative action because Robinson has worked hard for more than two decades at the U of A.

“When Dr. Bobbitt and this board needed someone to take the helm on the abrupt departure of Dr. Steinmetz, we knew who was qualified and capable of doing the chancellor job and we chose Charles and Charles did not disappoint,” Gibson said.

“My point is that Charles has earned the right to be considered for chancellor of University of Arkansas at Fayetteville through old-fashioned hard work, honesty, integrity and all of his dealings with students, faculty, alumni, stakeholders, local industry, our state legislature and others to good effect.”

During the past 23 years, Robinson has served in several roles at the U of A, including African and African American Studies Program director, vice provost for diversity, and provost and executive vice chancellor for academic and student affairs.

Robinson earned a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Houston, a master’s degree in history from Rice University and a doctorate in history from the University of Houston.

The board’s selection is a historic moment for the state’s flagship university and the people of Arkansas, Gibson said.

“By appointing Charles Robinson as the next chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, this board has seized the opportunity to select a very accomplished man who happens to be Black and tell the country and the whole world that the Arkansas of today is not the Arkansas of 1957 and Central High,” he said.

Robinson is just the second African American man to lead a Southeastern Conference university. William Tate IV became the first when he was named president of Louisiana State University in May 2021.

Tate and Robinson became the SEC’s first African-American provosts on July 1, 2020. Tate was named executive vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of South Carolina while Robinson was named interim provost and vice chancellor for academic student affairs at the U of A.

The process for selecting the UA’s next chancellor began in February with the announcement of a search committee to aid UA System president Donald Bobbitt, who would recommend a candidate to the board for final approval.

After four finalists visited the UA’s Fayetteville campus and participated in public forums in September, the board narrowed their candidates to Robinson and Daniel Reed, an Arkansas native and presidential professor of computational science at the University of Utah.

The board met in executive session Sept. 30 and Oct. 14, but made no decision. Bobbitt favored Reed, according to an email the Arkansas Times received through a public records request.

In that email, Robinson said he would not be interested in returning to his role as provost in Reed’s administration at a salary greater than or equal to his salary as interim chancellor. This option was discussed by Bobbitt and Reed, according to the email.

Runway Group co-founder and Walmart heir Steuart Walton wrote an op-ed in support of Reed that was published by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Nov. 11.

Former U.S. Senator, Arkansas Governor and UA trustee David Pryor, Speaker of the Arkansas House Matthew Shepherd, Dillard’s chairman and CEO William Dillard II, Tyson consultant Archie Schaffer, J.B. Hunt Transport Services co-founder Johnelle Hunt and former UA trustees Ben Hyneman and Mark Waldrip sent letters to Bobbitt in support of Robinson.

The board approved a motion that Robinson’s three-year term will start immediately and he will receive the same salary and benefits as Steinmetz, whose salary in fiscal 2021 was $466,878.83.

This story first appeared in Arkansas Advocate and is being republished through a Creative Commons License. See the original story here.

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