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In his first press conference as UNC’s interim chancellor, Lee Roberts said one of his primary goals will be to manage a seamless transition and ensure students, faculty and staff have the resources they need.
Roberts, a former state budget director and a former member of the UNC System Board of Governors, said one of his goals will be to upgrade many University buildings that are unsuitable for teaching. “There’s a lot of money, and a lot of time and attention and energy that go into building new buildings,” Roberts said during a Jan. 18 press conference. “But how are we using our existing facilities? Are we doing the best job of that?”
Roberts also said he will focus on improving campus safety in light of the Aug. 28 shooting death of Professor Zijie Yan, an event that sent campus into lockdown for several hours.
Roberts began work Jan. 12, the last day for former Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, who will take over as president of Michigan State University in March.
At the Board of Trustees meeting on Jan. 17, George Battle, vice chancellor for institutional integrity and risk management, said the University will release a report that will include recommendations for improvements in campus safety. Roberts also responded to calls for faculty and staff to take mandatory active shooter training, acknowledging “there’s generally resistance, as you know, to mandatory training especially for faculty, but this might be an exception to that.”
Some alumni and faculty have voiced concerns that Roberts doesn’t have the academic credentials or administrative experience past chancellors have had. Roberts said he is approaching the interim chancellor position with the Hippocratic Oath in mind, “do no harm.” When asked what harm meant to him, Roberts said, “There’s a team of really dedicated, talented professionals here. Not just on the academic side, but across the organization. They know how to do their jobs. I’m not here to tell them how to do their jobs, particularly when it comes to the faculty. … A lot of things are working really well. Let’s not mess that up.”
Roberts discussed student mental health and said he met with Student Body President Christopher Everett and Graduate Student President Lauren Hawkinson. Following the campus shooting, faculty called for a task force to address the mental health of graduate students. Tailei Qi, who has been charged with shooting Yan, was a graduate student.
“The challenge in front of us is twofold,” Roberts said. “We need to do a better job of making sure that students — graduate and undergraduate students — as well as faculty and staff, are aware of the broad resources that are available now. We need to continue to invest in those resources and develop them further.”
Roberts said University admissions has reported a 15 percent increase in applications for the incoming class. Carolina’s new policy of waiving tuition and fee costs for incoming in-state undergraduate students whose families make less than $80,000 a year is likely one reason for the increase, he said.
Roberts taught a course at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and said he would like to do the same at UNC.
Roberts did not say whether he is considering the permanent chancellor position.
— Cameron Hayes Fardy ’23