Charles Robinson is the new chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. A former provost and the interim chancellor of the university for more than a year following the departure of Joe Steinmetz, Robinson’s appointment is historic: He’s the first Black leader of the state’s flagship campus.
After weeks of behind-the-scenes jockeying, public lobbying and two lengthy executive sessions, the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees finally made a selection with a public roll call vote at a meeting in Monticello, which followed the board meeting in executive session for a little more than an hour.
The board had reportedly been split over whether to hire Robinson or Daniel Reed, a Utah computer professor with Arkansas ties. UA System President Donald Bobbitt favored Reed and tried to get Robinson to drop out of selection process with a half-million-dollar offer to remain provost. Meanwhile, big money lined up on either side of the debate, with the Walton family supporting Reed, with Steuart Walton writing an op-ed in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette lobbying for Reed, and many of the other well-known Arkansas business leaders — the Tysons, the Dillards, the Hunts — backing Robinson.
Board Chair Cliff Gibson of Monticello, who the Arkansas Times has reported was long in the Robinson camp, made the motion to hire Robinson and was the first to vote in favor of his motion, citing his seniority on the board.
After the vote, he said, “Lest anyone think the hiring is an affirmative action thing, let me disabuse you of those thoughts.” He cited Robinson’s 23 years at the university and his strong interim leadership following the “abrupt” departure of Steinmetz.
“Charles has earned the right to be chancellor through old-fashioned hard work,” Gibson said. He noted that it was a historic occasion for the university with the board “selecting a very accomplished man who happens to be Black” to the lead the campus. He said it would send a message that “the Arkansas of today is not the Arkansas of 1957 and Central High.” Gibson then quoted Martin Luther King Jr.: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Board member Sheffield Nelson said he believed voting for Robinson was the most important vote he’d ever taken as a member of the UA Board of Trustees. He said the board would have taken a great step backward had it selected anyone else.
The board voted to pay Robinson what Steinmetz made, a salary of $714,000, and sign him to a three-year contract.