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Interim Chancellor Lee Roberts speaks at TransparUNCy teach-in

Photo courtesy of Faith Skowronnek.

UNC’s interim Chancellor Lee Roberts made an impromptu appearance at the TransparUNCy Teach-In: Part 2 event in the Student Union on Thursday evening

The teach-in was planned to discuss the past, present and future actions of powerful stakeholders in North Carolina who control higher education in the state, such as the Board of Trustees and Board of Governors. Hosted by the Affirmative Action Coalition, the goal of the event was to educate the greater campus community on these leaders and advocate against their involvement, according to Heel Life.

Roberts told the audience he contacted Toby Poselco-founder of TransparUNCy and presenter at the teach-in, earlier on Thursday to ask if he could attend the event. 

During a time designated for students to ask questions and have conversations with the TransparUNCy leadership and presenters, Roberts was asked by a few audience members in particular to speak to the crowd of about 100 community members. He spoke about his relationship with UNC System BOG member James Arthur “Art” Pope and anti-diversity, equity and inclusion legislation that could potentially impact UNC. 

In response to a discussion about his connection to Pope, who is the CEO and chair of Variety Wholesalers, Inc. and a conservative donor, Roberts said he serves on the corporate board of the private retail company and is paid $10,000 a year. However, Roberts said they agreed he would not be paid while serving as interim chancellor. 

The slideshow presented at the event called Pope the “most powerful man in North Carolina" based on his experience in state government and local relationships. 

“Art Pope has a lot of ideas — so do a lot of other people,” Roberts said. “He cares a lot about Carolina — so do a lot of other people. He doesn’t always get his way — I don’t think that anybody does.” 

After being asked by an audience member if the protection of marginalized people and those with histories of oppression are nonpartisan issues, Roberts said that diversity is a nonpartisan issue.

“It’s the state’s University. It needs to look like the state,” Roberts said. “Especially as the state continues to change and diversify.”

Posel asked Roberts to "take a stand" on recent comments made by two UNC trustees regarding the role of diversity at universities and emerging anti-DEI legislation, specifically in connection to Florida's recent legislation. Florida's Senate Bill 266 prohibits state universities from funding DEI efforts.

Roberts said there is not an anti-DEI bill in North Carolina equivalent to the Florida bill, but added he has made it clear that diversity is important to the campus community. He also said he does not believe it to be fair to ask him to comment on possible state legislation that would be out of his control. 

“There are political people on the [BOT], of course,” Roberts said. “For me to either align or not align with them would belie what I just said about being nonpartisan.”

As the interim chancellor, he said that he has a nonpartisan job and is going to do it in a nonpartisan way. He used former chair of the UNC faculty Mimi Chapman, who also attended the event, as an example of an effective advocate for the faculty and campus who keeps partisan politics out of her role, and said that is how he plans to do his job as well.  

Roberts said he doesn’t know if he and Chapman agree on big-picture national political issues, but that it didn't matter to the discussion.

In an email sent on Friday by the TransparUNCy team to the organization's email list, the message said that Thursday night was telling of the administration’s position on student concerns. 

"Interim Chancellor Roberts’ 'non-partisan' comments at the teach-in certainly show how willing, or more so unwilling, he is to stand with students and condemn the dangerous anti-DEI rhetoric and policy promoted by the Board of Trustees and Board of Governors. In the face of far right political attacks, 'non-partisan' is simply not enough," the email said. 

The email also stated that a third teach-in will be held on Thursday, April 11 at 5 p.m. regarding the School of Civic Life and Leadership. The location is yet to be announced. 

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