PEMBROKE — After Dr. Robin Cummings was sworn in Friday as the sixth chancellor of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, the 60-year-old took a moment to praise his predecessors.
“I am blessed to have a strong foundation to build on,” he told an audience of more than 500 people inside the Givens Performing Arts Center. “Our past is important and we will honor it proudly.”
The Pembroke native officially replaced Kyle Carter, the school’s previous chancellor, on July 16, 2015. University officials say it is standard practice for installation events to be held months after a new chancellor takes office.
Margaret Spellings, president of the University of North Carolina system, described the event as “a symbolic contract” between Cummings and the college. She was one of several guests who spoke during the ceremony, which ran about two hours.
U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson said Cummings was a good choice for the position.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Chancellor Cummings is a perfect fit,” said Hudson, a Republican from Concord who represents the 8th District, which includes UNCP and most of Robeson County. “His knowledge and experience will promote and continue to grow this university … . and provide our community with an institution we can be proud of.”
Cummings previously worked for the Department of Health and Human Services, where he was director of the Office of Rural Health and Community Care before being named deputy secretary of Health Services. He later served as acting director of the department.
As chancellor, Cummings says he sees challenges as “opportunities to serve.”
“The students are why I get up every morning with excitement,” he said. “We’re changing lives through education. We have the potential to not only change the lives of our students, but the lives of their parents and families.”
Cummings listed “communication, collaboration, accountability, integrity, innovation and service” as core values of the university.
Candice Locklear, president of the university’s Student Government Association, described Cummings as “a very approachable and personable individual with a great spirit.” Rudy Locklear, president of the university’s Alumni Association, said the school “will benefit from his wisdom and vision.”
Local leaders heaped further praise on Cummings in a video that played during the ceremony. Some of the people featured in the video included Sen. Jane Smith, Rep. Charles Graham and Harvey Godwin, chairman of the Lumbee Tribe.
Noticeably absent from the proceedings was Gov. Pat McCrory, who was expected to make an appearance but canceled “due to a continued viral infection that he has had over four weeks,” according to a statement released Friday by his office.
Although university officials had not officially announced that McCrory would be at the ceremony, he was listed in the event’s program.
“He will greatly miss the installation of the new UNC Pembroke chancellor Dr. Robin Cummings and an event honoring former Lt. Governor Jim Gardner’s granddaughter, Tyler Strandberg, in Rocky Mount, the governor will follow doctor’s advice by working and resting at home,” reads the statement, which was released less than two hours before the event started.
The announcement was made amid protests from students who organized on the UNCP campus Friday morning to voice their opposition to House Bill 2. Critics of the bill, which was enacted March 23, say it discriminates against transgender people by forcing them to use restrooms that do not correspond with their gender identity. The bill also establishes a statewide nondiscrimination policy that does not include sexual orientation or gender identity.
Groups of protesters waved signs outside Givens Performing Arts Center during the ceremony. Many of them felt the timing of McCrory’s announcement was suspicious.
“Does anybody buy the virus thing?” said Estelle Rodrigue, a senior at the university.
The installation ceremony was part of a week of festivities that will conclude today with a Black and Gold Celebration at the University Center Annex and a Community Action Day event, during which volunteers will clean up the grounds at the Lumbee Cultural Center and do other service projects on campus.
For information, call 910-521-6000 or visit uncp.edu.com.
Reach Jaymie Baxley at 910-739-4322