Though the University of Arkansas System has narrowed a field of four finalists for the University of Arkansas chancellor position to two, the board of trustees continues to debate between interim Chancellor Charles F. Robinson and Daniel A. Reed of the University of Utah.
For the second time in two weeks, trustees met in executive session for two hours Friday to discuss the chancellor role and candidates, and once again they took no action.
Trustees will meet again at a to-be-determined date for further “discussion and deliberation,” said Nate Hinkel, director of communications for the UA System. The exact date of that next meeting wasn’t set Friday.
“We’ll be nimble on this,” vowed board Chairman C.C. “Cliff” Gibson III. Trustees “continue to work on this, but I am encouraged” by progress made Friday, Gibson said.
“The board has a great deal of information and is very carefully considering it all,” said Donald Bobbitt, president of the UA System. “It’s up to them to decide what is necessary for the institution; in the end, it’s their decision, and I respect that.”
“At some point in time, it’s not respectful to the candidates or the university” to continue deliberations indefinitely without reaching a decision, “but I’m not trying to define what that point is,” Bobbitt added. “There comes a point when you have to make a decision, but we’re not at that point yet.”
Robinson, who is the first Black person to be chancellor of UA-Fayetteville in even an interim capacity, has 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.
Before being named interim chancellor in August 2021 after acting Chancellor Bill Kincaid — who was named to that role after former Chancellor Joe Steinmetz officially resigned June 18, 2021 — returned to his role on campus as senior managing associate general counsel, Robinson was provost and executive vice chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs at the university.
Earlier this month, Robinson elected to remain in contention for the chancellor position, rather than accept a return to a provost role — albeit at a salary higher than he currently earns as interim chancellor, and with different and enhanced duties from his previous stint as provost — when offered by Bobbitt, who favored Reed over Robinson for the chancellor role, according to an email from Robinson to Bobbitt.
The email was first reported by the Arkansas Times.
In Robinson’s email to Bobbitt, Robinson wrote that returning to a provost position “would not be the right professional pathway for me,” and “it is my hope that the board will support my candidacy.”
Robinson began his career at UA-Fayetteville in 1999 as an assistant professor of history, and during his time as vice chancellor for student affairs, Robinson led a major restructuring of the Division of Student Affairs, positioning it to focus more on student success initiatives, according to the University of Arkansas System.
He also led institutional efforts regarding diversity recruitment and retention of students and faculty while developing new academic initiatives and development goals.
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, according to the University of Arkansas System.
His research and teaching focuses on Southern history and race relations, African American studies, sexuality in history and civil rights, among other topics, and he’s earned a number of 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.
Reed, an Arkansas native who still has relatives living in the state, earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science at Missouri University of Science and Technology and a master’s and Ph.D. in computer science at Purdue University in Indiana. He was the corporate vice president for technology policy and extreme computing for Microsoft, where he focused extensively on cloud computing technology, but the preponderance of his career has been spent in academia.
He is the presidential professor of computational science at the University of Utah.
At Utah, Reed helped launch the For Utah scholarship — which diversified the student body and broadened access for first-generation students — and spearheaded the 1U4U cross-campus research initiative, according to the UA System. Previously, Reed was the university chair in computational science and bioinformatics and professor of computer science, electrical and computer engineering and medicine at the University of Iowa, where he was vice president for research and economic development.
Reed was the founding director of the Renaissance Computing Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with joint faculty appointments at Duke and North Carolina State University, and he also served as the chancellor’s eminent professor and vice chancellor for information technology in Chapel Hill, according to the UA System.
Before that, he was head of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as well as director of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.
In a statement from the UA System on Friday, Bobbitt called Robinson and Reed “very accomplished and qualified.”
“We appreciate the interest this process has generated both on campus and from the university’s broad constituencies across the state,” Bobbitt added. “A decision of this magnitude involving the future of the flagship campus of the UA System deserves as much continued discussion and deliberation as is necessary, and the board and I are dedicated to taking our time to ensure we reach an outcome in this process that best serves the university’s continued success.”
The other finalists were Jay T. Akridge, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Purdue University, and Cynthia Y. Young, founding dean of the College of Sciences at Clemson University, who would’ve been UA-Fayetteville’s first female chancellor if selected.
In September, finalists each visited the campus of the state’s largest university for two days of meetings with students, faculty, staff and university stakeholders, as well as public forums where they shared their visions for the university and answered questions from audience members.
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