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Charles Robinson named first Black chancellor to lead state’s flagship University of Arkansas at Fayetteville

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Charles Robinson named first Black chancellor to lead state’s flagship University of Arkansas at Fayetteville


By The Arkansas Black Vitality staff – After serving in the interim post for more than a year, the Board of Trustees of the University of Arkansas on Nov. 16 selected Charles F. Robinson, Ph.D., as the next chancellor of the state’s flagship University of Arkansas at Fayetteville (UAF).

Robinson will be the first Black chancellor to lead the state’s largest university with more than 30,000 students. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and offers more than 240 academic programs. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the U of A among only three percent of universities in America that have the highest level of research activity.

Following its regular executive session at the recent board meeting, the UAF trustees voted unanimously to appoint Robinson, who began serving as interim chancellor on Aug. 16, 2021. His new employment agreed includes a three-year term as the top executive at UAF, which had record enrollment of 30,936 in the fall.

“Dr. Robinson has proven to be a very good steward of the university and its land-grant mission during his time as interim chancellor,” Bobbitt said. “He now has the opportunity to cast a broader vision for advancing the university as a leading public research university in the region and raising its status on the national stage. He has a unique ability to inspire others and to relate to the many different constituencies across the university, and I look forward to working with him to help make his tenure as chancellor a success.”

In February, University of Arkansas System President Donald R. Bobbitt named a search committee to assist in finding the next chancellor in Fayetteville. The committee, which included faculty, staff and supporters of the university, advised Bobbitt during the ongoing selection program.

In April, the committee began its search with the launch of a new website, which included the position description, an overview of the phases of the search process and other relevant information. Candidates for the post to lead the state’s largest submitted their applications ahead of a July 8, 2022, deadline.

In early September, Bobbitt named four finalists for the chancellor’s post. Selected with the help of a search committee chaired by U of A engineering Dean Kim Needy, Ph.D., the finalists each visited campus for two days of meetings with students, faculty, staff and university stakeholders. As part of their visit, each candidate also participated in a public forum on campus that was live streamed and recorded for broad access to the campus community.

Robinson was the first finalist to participate in a public forum on the UAF campus on Sept. 12. He was followed by Jay T. Akridge, Ph.D., provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Purdue University; Daniel A. Reed, Ph.D., presidential professor of computational science at the University of Utah; and Cynthia Y. Young, Ph.D., founding dean of the College of Sciences at Clemson University.

Ultimately, Bobbitt recommended Robinson and Reed as the two final selectees sent to the UAF Board of Trustees for final approval. In a news release from the UAF Office of Communications, Robinson said he was eager to get to work.

“I’m looking forward to serving our campus in its entirety and greatly appreciate the support and confidence shown in me to lead the university and advance our land-grant mission,” Robinson said.

In his new role as UAF’s fulltime chancellor, Robinson received a three-year employment agreement to lead the university’s land-grant mission to provide opportunity and transform lives through education, research, and service.

Robinson has served on the University of Arkansas campus for more than 23 years, beginning as an assistant professor of history in 1999. In that time, he has successively been promoted to positions of increasing leadership and responsibility, including director of the African and African American Studies Program, vice provost for diversity and vice chancellor for Student Affairs, provost and executive vice chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs and interim chancellor.

Throughout his tenure at the University of Arkansas, Robinson has consistently led institutional progress in student success relative to recruitment, retention and graduation, while articulating new academic initiatives and development of goals to better serve the campus and meet the needs of students.

As vice provost for diversity, Robinson established several programs focused on making the U of A more accessible for Arkansas students. These include the College Access Initiative, a college readiness outreach program serving underrepresented students and under-resourced schools statewide, as well as the ACT Academy, designed to help students prepare for college entrance exams and academic success.

As vice chancellor for Student Affairs, Robinson pioneered a major restructuring of the Division of Student Affairs, better positioning the unit to focus on student success. Robinson led the main capital campaign initiative for Advance Arkansas – a $10 million scholarship effort for first-generation, low-income Arkansans.

Under his leadership, the university constructed Adohi Hall, a $79 million campus project that is the only residence hall in the United States to use cross-laminated timber, a construction process that reduces environmental impact. Robinson, also, oversaw a $22 million expansion of Pat Walker Health Center and heavily involved in the strategic planning for the university’s Student Success Center, a 71,000-square-foot facility focused on increasing access to services on campus for all students.

In his role as provost, Robinson continued his strong efforts for student success while augmenting support for faculty, managing the challenges of the pandemic. Robinson enhanced communication and coordination of the university’s academic and student affairs endeavors in order to create a more holistic approach to student success on campus. Also, Robinson led campus pandemic planning, organizing remote teaching delivery campuswide and making other important decisions relative to academic instruction and campus activities.

As interim chancellor, Robinson worked to better manage university resources, expand student success services, increase scholarship dollars for Arkansas students, support the expansion of research, and to position the university as an employer of choice. As a result of his leadership, the university has been able to add $1 million to the general scholarship pool for Arkansans while keeping tuition and fee increases to less than one percent for in-state residents. Robinson’s careful stewarding of university resources also allowed him to authorize five percent salary increases for faculty and staff and offset the insurance premium increases for most campus workers.

Robinson’s research and teaching focus on Southern history and race relations, African American studies, sexuality in history and Civil Rights, among other topics. He has earned many awards for his teaching, including the Fulbright College Master Teacher Award, Arkansas Student Alumni Board Teacher of the Year, and an induction into the university’s Teaching Academy.

Robinson holds 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. He has authored numerous books and peer-reviewed articles.

Photo Credit – Chancellor Robinson is welcomed back to campus after being named the seventh chancellor of the U of A. (Photo by Whit Pruitt, UAF Communications Staff.)

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