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Interim Chancellor Roberts discusses priorities in Q&A hosted by Coalition for Carolina

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Chancellor Lee Roberts gave an interview in his South Building office on Friday.

The Coalition for Carolina, a group concerned with keeping UNC independent of partisan influence, hosted a Q&A session with interim Chancellor Lee Roberts on Wednesday.

The event was led by the co-founders of the coalition, Mimi Chapman and Roger Perry. Chapman is a current UNC faculty member and former Chair of the Faculty and Perry is a UNC graduate who has served on the Board of Trustees and other University committees.

The co-founders asked Roberts about his plans for the future of UNC, the effects of political influence on higher education and his opinions on recent controversial events. 

Priorities

When asked about his top priorities for his tenure as interim chancellor, Roberts announced the creation of four new working groups that will provide recommendations to update aspects of the University's strategic plan. These groups will focus on enrollment planning, campus renovation, the applied sciences and artificial intelligence. 

Roberts said the groups are not focused on making rapid change, but rather on studying their specific issues and making recommendations, which will be submitted to him by Aug. 1. 

Civic education 

Roberts said he thinks the School of Civic Life and Leadership is going to be a tremendous asset to the University due to a significant need for education in civility and civic discourse. 

The Board of Governors recently passed a requirement for “Foundations of American Democracy” student learning outcomes, which aims to incorporate these values into pre-existing courses across disciplines. Roberts said there are plenty of examples today of discourse around important issues that could be more civil. 

“I think investment in civil discourse and civic leadership is important,” Roberts said. “I think the students want it, and I agree with them.”

Political bias

Roberts also addressed his role on the corporate board of Variety Wholesalers.

“There’s been this implication that because I serve on that board, I’m somehow being disingenuous when I say that this is a nonpartisan job and I plan to do it in a nonpartisan way,” Roberts said. “I have to say, I don’t see that connection.”

Roberts was asked if he had perceived a strong liberal bias among faculty members during his time at UNC and whether or not he thinks political beliefs are relevant to academics. He said he has observed that faculty members are able to keep their political views out of education and that the University has a responsibility to provide opportunities for political discussions outside of the classroom.

Affirmative action

The University has an obligation to reflect the state’s diverse population and to ensure that everyone who is admitted can feel like they belong, Roberts said. In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on affirmative action at UNC, he said that outreach can be an important factor in ensuring a diverse student population.

He said that while some counties in N.C. send hundreds of students to UNC every year, others haven’t sent any students in five years. He said the University needs to do a better job of making sure that everyone across the state has the opportunity to be accepted and welcomed onto campus. 

“I think everyone is eager to see the data on how this class differs, if at all, demographically from prior classes,” Roberts said

Governance and the boards 

When asked about the diversity of the UNC governing boards, like the Board of Governors, Roberts said the way in which public board members are selected — chosen by the majority party in the N.C. General Assembly — is a detriment to having a diverse board because there is no one considering its overall makeup.

In regards to shared governance within the UNC System, Roberts said there is some gray area among the responsibilities of each constituency, which can lead to disagreement. He added that although issues in the past have arisen due to the overlap, it is important that all sides of the issue are willing to listen. 

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“I think we just have to navigate through as best as possible and trust that everyone has the best interest of Carolina at heart,” he said.

@aidan__lockhart

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