Auburn's lone presidential candidate has a busy schedule ahead of him, meeting with students, faculty, administration and alumni on Thursday and Friday.
Chris Roberts, dean of the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, has 11 meetings, forums and receptions scheduled at Auburn University and Auburn University-Montgomery. Five of Roberts' meetings are open to the public, while several others are open only to members of the stakeholder groups he will be meeting with. Click here to view Roberts' schedule on Thursday and Friday.
Below are snapshots of what's happening at these meetings, written by The Plainsman's staff. We will update this page periodically.
Jan. 21, 3 p.m.: Zoom forum with off-campus employees and stakeholders
by Trice Brown, multimedia editor
- Concluding two days of meetings with various community members, students, faculty, staff and stakeholders, presidential candidate Chris Roberts met on Zoom with individuals who were unable to attend the other in-person forums.
- Below are some of the questions attendees asked Roberts, followed by his answers.
In the state of Alabama, there are a lot of individuals like you and I who came through on the Pell Grant program. I'd love to to hear you once again talk about that, because I think it's going to take a cultural shift to be sure that we can still be number one but also be inclusive. — Kenneth Kelly, chairman and CEO of First Independence Bank in Detroit, Michigan.
- Roberts said it's important to continually improve the academic programs and attract talented students while also addressing affordability challenges. Addressing these challenges would also help diversity efforts on campus.
- Roberts said if he is appointed as University president, one of his responsibilities is to garner additional resources through alumni donations and corporate sponsorships.
- "We've worked really hard in the college of engineering to try to garner resources that we've been able to use for both scholarships and academic support for our students for them to be successful."
- Through the Ever Auburn scholarship program, the University was able to bring in about $10 million in new scholarships for students. Over the course of a few weeks, the University was able to raise $2.5 million for the Engineering Academic Excellence Program, which is designed to "recruit, reward and retain" Black students and other underrepresented students in the college of engineering.
- Roberts said the college of engineering ranked 25th in the country last year for degrees awarded to Black students, yet is not ranked 25th in the country for Black enrollment.
- "But what we are strong at is making sure that when we accept students, that we provide them the help and the support and the encouragement to succeed."
- Roberts said he wants to cultivate a climate and environment where students feel "welcomed, valued, respected and engaged." He said the University must put together the kinds of resources they put into programs like the Engineering Academic Excellence Program to provide more scholarship opportunities to more students.
- "Another thing that I wish to work on significantly through this role as president is to further develop our relationships with our industry partners. Our industry partners also wish for us to make progress in these areas and provide these opportunities. I believe through those kinds of partnerships, and through the pursuit of federal funds, that we can further reach more students, provide those opportunities and elevate our expectations of excellence on the academic side at the same time."
Pre-pandemic, our undergraduate student population was about 28% food insecure. The most recent study done last spring showed that there were about 40% of our students are struggling to meet their food needs. How can we meet their basic needs of getting enough calories per day so that they can be successful in the classroom? — Kate Thornton, director of international outreach at the Hunger Solutions Institute.
- "As president, I would look forward to working with you, understanding more about what the challenges are, and importantly, what some of the opportunities are for the University to help, for the community to help and where we can bring the Auburn Family to bear and helping to address these challenges as well."
- Roberts said he remembered being a student that worried about having to make tuition payments and weighing that against a trip to the grocery store.
- "I don't know all the answers sitting here. It's not an area that's been within my regular purview as an academic dean, but as a citizen of our community and a member of the Auburn Family, I care about it greatly."
Many African American graduates from the college of engineering speak highly of the Engineering Academic Excellent Problem, which significantly increased minority students recruitment and retention in the college. Given that the state of Alabama's African American population exceeds 26%, and given that Auburn University ranks near the bottom in the SEC for Black student enrollment at approximately 5%, do you have a plan or strategy to increase Black enrollment across all colleges and schools within the university? — Linwood Moore, member of Auburn University's Black Alumni Council.
- Roberts said the AEP has been successful because it is local to where the student are and where they are studying. He said he hopes to "propagate that culture and that opportunity" across the entire Auburn campus.
- "We also need to focus heavily on ensuring that we provide opportunities to faculty members to broaden and diversify our pools and our faculty searches, and making sure that we're bringing talent to campus to bring to bear on our research and our teaching, but also to serve as inspiration."
- In the college of engineering, Roberts said, they were able to quadruple the number of Black faculty over five years.
- "I recognize I'm talking about one particular college. What we're hoping is that we do this across the entire campus. I also hope that the examples that I've provided through our AEP program or through our hiring initiative in the college of engineering illustrate to you what my intentions and aspirations are for Auburn. I'll work diligently on this each and every day."
Jan. 21, 2 p.m.: Forum with Auburn University at Montgomery
by Evan Mealins, editor-in-chief
- Over 100 students, faculty and staff of Auburn University at Montgomery met in the Taylor Center for a meeting with presidential candidate Chris Roberts at 2 p.m. Friday. Carl Stockton, chancellor of AUM, began the meeting by describing his experience interviewing Roberts as part of the presidential search advisory committee.
- “Dr. Roberts made me excited about the future of Auburn and Auburn University at Montgomery because of his innovative approach to leadership and his vision for the Auburn University system,” Stockton said.
After a 15-minute speech from Roberts about his decision-making process, growing up in Missouri and his academic background, students and faculty then were able to ask Roberts questions. Some of these questions are shown below followed by Roberts’ answers.
How can we make sure that professors stay at AUM?
- “We have to build a climate and a culture that people wish to be here and want to be here and are deriving great joy and satisfaction in serving Auburn University Montgomery’s students. And so I think one thing I would ask y’all to do is think very carefully about what are those uniqueness, those attributes and really try to make sure that everybody buys into those as being important here on campus.”
- “We also have to reward our faculty, we have to make sure that we provide all the incentives, including salary incentives, to faculty members to compel them to stay so that they can raise their families in these fine communities and really make a difference too.”
- “As dean of engineering, one of my biggest concerns is, ‘We have some superstar faculty members, and will they stay with us?’ And I work pretty hard to nurture those relationships to try to keep them there.”
What are some ideas you have for how the two campuses might collaborate?
- “I want us to do a really hard assessment of what are the areas where we have deep capability and interest. We should do that same mapping here at AUM and we should lay those charts on top of each other and we should look for opportunities to go after large grants together. ... So one of the things that we can do from the president’s office is try to pick some thematic areas … and then encourage collaboration.”
- Roberts specifically mentioned artificial intelligence as an opportunity for collaborative research between the two campuses.
In what ways do you AUM as an asset to the Auburn brand?
- “It’s a tremendous asset to the Auburn brand… Your proximity to the state capital in our own state, you have tremendous access to leaders, civic leaders in the state, that we don’t on campus.”
- Roberts reiterated that differences in expertise and capability at Auburn and AUM are assets for both campuses.
Could you tell us about your top priorities as the next president for Auburn?
- “There’s this intricate balance between academic prowess, which builds reputation and attracts more and more applicants … versus access and affordability, and I think that’s one of the biggest issues facing higher ed, is how do we balance those two things. ...I believe that there are people who understand that confluence and wish to help us, and I want to make a really concerted effort on both campuses to pursue both corporate and private giving to provide more scholarship funds available to us to award to students to take that burden off of students but also allow to attract talent to our campus to ratchet up both of those.”
- “I would need to learn more about AUM before I make any declaration like this, so I obviously have a lot more to learn. I believe we can double the research enterprise at Auburn University, I believe that there are whole sectors of research that we are not contributing to the way that we could.”
Cardinals or Royals?
Jan. 21, 9 a.m.: Open forum
by Destini Ambus, content editor
- Roberts met with stakeholders (including faculty, staff and students) in the Grand Ballroom at the Auburn University Hotel and Conference Center.
- Roberts reiterated his vision for Auburn as a "preeminent land-grant institution" after a brief introduction by Board of Trustees member Sarah Newton, before the floor was opened for Q and A.
What are some other opportunities that you see at Auburn for us to generate the kinds of funding to really elevate our programs?
- "One area that we can improve in to bring in revenue is corporate partnerships. That's something that Auburn is probably a little risk averse on, and we need to get ourselves more comfortable with taking risks. We also need to get comfortable with leveraging the fact that we've got an alumni base spread out over many different industries that can make a huge difference to this campus. I think we need to come to grips with opportunities related to online education, professional development programs because if people could get a certification from Auburn University, as opposed to another university people will jump at that. We need to identify the unique strengths of Auburn University and double down on those to propel us forward."
To what degree do you support the ROTC units, Navy, Army or Air Force? What do you know about the Auburn Student Veterans Association and the Veterans Resource Center in Foy Hall? Do you support the military recognition days like at football games or other sporting events?
- "My wife is a veteran and we're very committed and have a deep respect for our military and people who have done military service. I love the fact that we have a rich tradition on this campus for that. With regard to those programs, my wife Tracy and I have had a lot of conversations about the roles that we would play...In fact the scholarship that we have in place right now at the University is designed for those students."
What your thoughts about how to attract the best students from across the country, how to make an education available to all qualified students in the state?
- "I know that these are decision that have taken a great deal of time among leaders here at Auburn for the last several years, trying to balance access and affordability and I look forward to rolling up my sleeves and really getting into that. I told you that I resemble that remark, I was a Pell Grant student so that access meant a lot to me. With that said, we want the reputation of the institution to be strong. We want to attract talent, and I believe that having active conversations about this, that we can make the decisions relating to it. I don't know that I have an answer for you standing here, but I can tell you that I care about it a lot and I want us all to care about it a lot."
Jan. 20, 5 p.m.: University, community and alumni reception
by My Ly, news editor
- The Auburn University Foundation and the Auburn Alumni Association held a reception for members of the community and alumni to meet with Chris Roberts at 5 p.m. in The Galloway Atrium at the Auburn Alumni Center.
- Roberts discussed the open forum he held earlier today, stating, "It was great, they asked a lot of really great questions, but I felt so bad because there were more students wanting to ask questions and they wanted me to move along so I promised them if this works out, I would do another one of these."
- Auburn alum showed up to meet with Roberts and ask him questions. One alum said, "I'm a graduate of the College of Engineering so I think it's exciting to think about the impact that he could have across the University."
Jan. 20, 3:15 p.m.: Student forum
by Destini Ambus, content editor
- Chris Roberts met with students in the Harold Melton Student Center Ballroom at 1 p.m.
- Rett Waggoner, SGA president and Presidential Search Advisory Committee member, welcomed attendees to the forum, mentioning he was excited about the potential future of Auburn under Roberts because of his "student-centered approach and vision for our beloved university."
- After an introduction by Board of Trustees member Sarah Newton, Roberts spoke briefly about his journey to Auburn and his vision for the future of the University as a "preeminent land-grant institution that is highly impactful with a scale of excellence that is recognizable."
Students were given the opportunity to ask Roberts questions. Their questions and his answers are below.
What do you think are the main ways you could use your nearly 30 years of experience to improve the University?
- "In the past 28 years, I've learned a lot about the uniqueness of our culture and how we achieve ambitious goals within this culture. I feel like I understand this community and that we can define together what these ambitious goals are. I think I'm in a unique position to be able to do that after spending this amount of time here and achieving some ambitious goals."
Since you've had so much experience with engineering students, how do you plan on getting to know the differences and the needs of all the different colleges and students?
- "Over the years, I've tried really hard to get to know our campus, but I don't pretend to know everything. I'm going to spend a lot of time listening, and for the first couple of months if I'm selected for this position I want to learn more about each and every college. The one thing I've learned as dean, and I'm sure that this applies [to] president, is that people don't do what they don't want to do. And they do amazing things when they're motivated. And so we want to make sure that we provide the environment to all of our students to be able to really succeed. So I will work very hard to make sure that I developed an even richer appreciation for all the colleges."
What are your goals for integration of the University and the larger community?
- "We have a job here. The relationship between the City and the University is very good and something that I will carefully nurture. I will make sure we have an open line of communication between the City and the University because as we both succeed, that helps our students and the community."
If you were chosen for this position, is there a word or even a mission statement that will help motivate your decisions?
- "I'm going to use four words to describe the climate that I hope will be set: I want everyone on this campus to feel welcomed, valued, respected and engaged. If we do all four of those things, great things will come out."
What are your thoughts on graduate students needing to take out second jobs to live and work in Auburn despite being dissuaded to do so?
- "One thing we're working really hard on is to increase our entire research base which will give us more revenue to invest in students. And there's a lot of discussion right now on campus on how we can better support our graduate students, about how [we can] get the stipend levels higher for graduate students to offset costs."
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