The University of Arkansas System board of trustees has selected Dr. Charles Robinson as the next chancellor of the Fayetteville campus. The vote was unanimous during the board’s regular meeting Wednesday (Nov. 16) in Monticello.
Robinson, the provost and executive vice chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs at the UA, has been interim chancellor since Aug. 16, 2021.
The University of Arkansas confirmed the board’s decision with a social media post on Wednesday morning. A public vote by the board was to be held on Friday on the Fayetteville campus to determine who will be the flagship university’s next chancellor. However, board chairman Cliff Gibson left open the possibility the issue could be resolved before then.
On Oct. 14, the UA System announced that the selection process was down to two candidates because the board could not reach a consensus. The UA System announcement did not name the two candidates. It was later learned that Dr. Daniel Reed, presidential professor of computational science at the University of Utah, and Robinson were the top two.
UA System President Donald Bobbitt announced on Sept. 2 four finalists for the top job at the state’s flagship university: Robinson; Dr. Jay Akridge, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, Purdue University; Reed; and Dr. Cynthia Young, founding dean of the College of Sciences, Clemson University.
A Freedom of Information request from Arkansas Times uncovered a message from Robinson to Bobbitt in which it was learned that Bobbitt wanted to hire Reed, with Robinson being promised a return to his former job as provost but with unspecified extra duties and a salary equal to or greater than his interim chancellor pay. Robinson rejected the offer.
Reed was thought to be the preferred candidate of the Walton family, heirs to the Walmart Inc. fortune and a longtime university benefactor. The thinking was confirmed last week when Steuart Walton pennned an op-ed in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (subscription required) voicing support for Reed.
“He [Reed] is the right leader and I, alongside my family, agree with University President Dr. Don Bobbitt’s recommendation and encourage the Board of Trustees to affirm it,” Walton wrote. “Some may ask why I wrote this or why I care so much, and it’s simple: Arkansas has been home to our family for generations. We have continually worked to invest in our home state and give back in service of our community that enabled our success. The University of Arkansas has been an important piece of our state’s success and will be critical for our prosperity tomorrow.”
Walton is Sam Walton’s grandson and a co-founder of Runway Group. The Bentonville holding company invests in real estate, hospitality and outdoor recreation in Northwest Arkansas.
He provided the following statement Wednesday to Talk Business & Politics:
“I would like to extend my personal congratulations to Dr. Charles Robinson, who has just been named chancellor for the University of Arkansas. This is, in fact, a historic moment for the university and for Dr. Robinson, and we wish him well as he sets a course for our university’s future.”
In a UA System news release, officials said Robinson’s initial employment agreement is for three years. It did not disclose salary information.
“We don’t have a contract at this point,” UA System spokesman Nate Hinkle said. “Part of today’s approval included [Bobbitt] and Dr. Robinson executing a contract in the coming weeks.”
“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 in a statement. “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.”
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.
Robinson has held numerous jobs at the UA during the past 23 years, beginning as an assistant professor of history in 1999 and including director of the African and African American Studies Program, vice provost for diversity, vice chancellor for student affairs, and as provost and executive vice chancellor for academic and student affairs.
During his time at the UA, he has led several projects focused on student recruitment and success, including a college readiness program for underrepresented students, a major restructuring of the Division of Student Affairs and a $10 million scholarship effort for first-generation, low-income Arkansans. 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.