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PROFILE

By Laura Goodwin | Portrait photo by Meredith Mashburn

Chancellor Charles F. Robinson, Ph.D.

A Home-Grown Leader

The University of Arkansas Board of Trustees made history when its members voted unanimously in November 2022 to appoint Dr. Charles Robinson as the seventh chancellor for the University of Arkansas’ Fayetteville campus. Chancellor Robinson, who in 23 years at the university has served in multiple roles, is the first Black person to lead the flagship campus. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to lead,” said Robinson, “and for the board’s demonstration that Arkansas values their own. It’s important that Arkansas can put its trust in home-grown leadership.”

 

Robinson, who grew up and was educated in Houston, Texas, earned degrees from the University of Houston and Rice University. In 1999 he followed his mentor, Dr. James H. Jones, distinguished professor of history at the University of Houston, to the University of Arkansas History Department where he joined the faculty. “Mentorship matters,” said Robinson, a core belief that is reflected in his personal history as well as his passion for teaching.

 

During his tenure at the University of Arkansas, Robinson has received the Fulbright College Master Teacher Award, the Arkansas Alumni Distinguished Teacher Award and the Student Alumni Board Teacher of the Year Award. He was also inducted into the university’s Teaching Academy.

 

“I was not the first person in my family to go to college,” said Robinson, whose father pursued a degree as a non-traditional student. “But I was the first to have the typical college experience.”

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Robinson remembered being unsure of how to navigate the college systems that helped make more habituated students successful. Memories of his own experience have informed his teaching as well as his ongoing commitment to students.

 

Connection with students and awareness of their concerns informs Robinson’s leadership. He meets monthly with the Associated Student Government and the Graduate and Professional Student Congress. “Presence matters,” Robinson said, “and I love that time with students.”

 

Robinson works to stay both visible and accessible to students on campus. He’s scheduled to teach an honors course in the fall 2023 semester that will focus on ideas and systems related to university leadership.

 

Robinson brings an historian’s perspective to the chancellor role. He’s the second historian to serve since Dr. Willard Gatewood in the 1980s. “As an historian, I bring context, and the recognition that things end,” Robinson said. “There’s no divine right to serve as chancellor. It’s a privilege and opportunity. I want to bring my energy and effort to this dash (of time). I want to support my colleagues to serve this campus and this state better.”

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Robinson mans one of the many "Help-A-Hog" tables that students use during the first week of classes to find their way around campus on Aug. 23 2021. Photo by Chieko Hara

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Robinson crowns Grace Crain as the 2021 Homecoming Queen at a Razorback football game Oct. 16, 2021. Photo by Whit Pruitt

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Robinson poses for photos with students during A-Week festivities which occurs during the first week of fall semester classes to welcome students back to campus, Aug. 22, 2022. Photo by Whit Pruitt

Serving the entire state of Arkansas is fundamental to the mission of the land-grant university and an objective that Robinson reflects on often. While the Fayetteville campus includes students from every county in Arkansas, the population centers in the northwestern and central regions of the state provide the largest numbers of its undergraduates. Expanding effective recruitment systems to other parts of the state will be important, especially in coming years.

 

“All universities will soon face the projected enrollment cliff,” Robinson said. The “cliff” refers to decreased birth rates, a response to the economic recession of 2008. Therefore, there will be fewer college-aged young people beginning in 2025. Strengthening relationships with communities in the northeastern, southeastern and southwestern parts of the state is a priority to meet enrollment goals. The university accepts all qualified Arkansas students. “We prioritize serving Arkansans,” said Robinson.

 

In his more than two decades at the university, Robinson has grown his capacity to lead while serving in positions of increasing responsibility. Among his many roles are provost, executive vice chancellor for academic and student affairs, vice provost for diversity, vice chancellor for student affairs, and director of the African and African American Studies Program. He also served as interim chancellor for a little over a year before his selection.

Working across the university with many different constituencies, Robinson’s peer network is extensive. “Through the years I’ve worked with many colleagues who have recognized my intention to collaborate for a common cause,” said Robinson, who strives to be an accessible leader. “The faculty and staff still see me as Charles.”

 

Stay informed about Chancellor Robinson’s work at news.uark.edu.

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Charles Robinson and his wife Reynelda

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