Duke graduate, Lee Roberts, chosen as interim chancellor for UNC:

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Saturday, December 16, 2023
Lee H. Roberts chosen as interim UNC chancellor
An interim chancellor at UNC has been named after former chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz accepted the job of president at Michigan State University.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- An interim chancellor at UNC has been named after former chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz accepted the job of president at Michigan State University.

UNC System President Peter Hans announced Friday that Lee H. Roberts will take over as interim chancellor on January 12.

"Public higher education is one of North Carolina's greatest strengths, and I'm honored to play a role in serving the nation's first and finest public university," Roberts said. "Chancellor Guskiewicz and his team have done extraordinary work, and I'm excited to continue supporting the dedicated scholars, staff, and students at Carolina."

Lee H. Roberts will take over as interim chancellor on January 12.

"I know that Lee is committed to the state of North Carolina and the important role of public higher education," Guskiewicz said. "I look forward to working with him during our transition. He will build on the incredible work underway by our world-class faculty, dedicated staff, curious students and passionate alumni."

Guskiewicz stepped down after five years as chancellor at UNC.

Guskiewicz is the third chancellor to leave UNC in 10 years, which one previous chancellor says is all the fault of leaders appointed to run the UNC System.

"Since 2010, the governing boards of the University of North Carolina System have shown that they've been watching too much "House of Cards." If the leaking, undermining and bad governance don't stop, they could easily make it 4-for-4 in a few years," Holden Thorpe wrote in an op-ed after Guskiewicz left for Michigan State.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, also blamed "meddling from legislative appointees" for driving away talent from the chancellor's office. "Hard right appointees" from the Republican-led legislature are damaging the university's reputation, he said.

Roberts served as a budget director under Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. He was then appointed by a GOP-led General Assembly to serve as a member of the UNC System Board of Governors.

"Lee Roberts is a brilliant professional whose ethical, apolitical, and I think visionary. And maybe his greatest skill, he's a great listener. He knows the university system. In fact, Lee Roberts was really the mastermind behind the university bonds as my Budget Director which passed by over 70% of the vote which helped build the UNC Medical School," said former Gov. Pat McCrory.

McCory heaped praise on Roberts during a one-on-one interview with ABC 11 shortly after news broke, describing him as "brilliant."

"I think he'll bring a new fresh voice to UNC-Chapel Hill's campus," said McCrory.

He noted the respect he earned from fellow members of his Cabinet.

"If you talk to anyone on the Cabinet or anyone who dealt with Lee Roberts - Republican or Democrat - you'll get a very positive response," said McCrory.

The son of journalists Steve Roberts and the late Cokie Roberts, Lee's background is more of a mix of public and private sector roles compared to more recent chancellors.

"I and most academics would probably prefer a lifelong academic in these roles. But Chancellor Roberts has personal characteristics that I think are very well-suited to his leadership. He has some experience in the Board of Governors, and as the State Budget Director, he certainly knows the ins and outs of the state budget. If he delegates the academic part of the university to the academics as I would expect given his experience as a manager, then I think it could be a pretty smooth ride," said Dr. Holden Thorp, who served as Chancellor at UNC-Chapel Hill from 2008-2013, in an interview with ABC 11 Friday.

He compared Roberts' experience as similar to that of former interim Chancellor Bill McCoy, who served in that capacity from 1999-2000.

"If he ends up being the next Bill McCoy, that'll be a really great thing for the University of North Carolina," said Thorp.

Thorp spoke with Roberts Friday, offering him support as he prepares to assume the role beginning next month.

He also backed current Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz's decision to accept the role of President at Michigan State, describing a tense relationship with the UNC Board of Trustees.

"They did many things publicly that could have been done between him and the Board that created chaos that didn't need to be there. When you have chaos going on, as I know as well as anyone who sat in that office, it's very hard to do your job," Thorp explained.

Guskiewicz initially served in an interim capacity as Chancellor for about ten months prior to being appointed to the role on a full-time basis.

"Anybody who thinks they know the answer to (who will get the full-time position) doesn't know the first thing about searches for Chancellors. They are twisted mazes that have many, many twists and turns, and it's a long time between now and when that (search) is over. All kinds of things can happen. If Lee Roberts does a good job, I'm sure there's an excellent chance that he can get the permanent job but there are lots of other things that could happen," said Thorp.

Roberts is a Duke University graduate and has taught a public policy course there since 2020. He has no prior experience in university administration.

Roberts is not the first Duke grad to serve as UNC's chancellor. Paul Hardin was UNC's chancellor from 1988-1995, and he had two degrees from Duke and spent a decade as a faculty member there.

Before his political appointments, Roberts started an investment firm; he remains an investment manager and managing partner at that firm.

"Lee Roberts is a patient leader, a generous listener, and someone raised with the values of public service," Hans said. "He knows how to find common ground on challenging issues, and he brings out the best in everyone around him. He's deeply committed to the university, and I'm excited to work alongside him in supporting the great work happening at Carolina."