Press Release

Former state budget director named interim chancellor

The new interim chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill is finance executive Lee H. Roberts, UNC System President Peter Hans announced Dec. 15. He will start Jan. 12.

Roberts said his motivation to take the helm of Carolina comes from a family tradition of public service and a deep commitment to a state that first became a home when he was 17.

“If you care about higher education, if you care about the future of the state, and if you care about public service, you have to care about what happens at Carolina. We don’t have a more important institution in the state,” he said.

The founder and managing partner of SharpVue Capital, a Raleigh-based private investment firm, Roberts has built a 30-year career in real estate investment and finance. Supporting higher education has been a deep interest, most recently as a member of the UNC System Board of Governors and chair of its budget committee. For the last five years, he has enjoyed teaching budgeting at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

His service also includes the State Board of Community Colleges, North Carolina’s Banking Commission, the Board of Visitors at the Sanford School, and the Golden LEAF Foundation, which focuses on economic renewal in parts of the state once dependent on the tobacco industry.

He considers careful listening and organizational vision among his best leadership qualities. “When you think about what the best chancellors do, they lead these large, complex organizations. They do it with humility, with decisiveness, with empathy,” he said. “They focus on building teams, listening and making sure their faculty, staff and students have the resources they need. They don’t tell the experts how to do their jobs.”

Tradition of public service

While Roberts’ career has focused on finance, he comes from a family dedicated to public service and journalism, which his parents considered their way of serving the public good. His mother, the late Cokie Roberts, was a political reporter and analyst for National Public Radio, PBS and ABC News. His father, Steven Roberts, worked for The New York Times, U.S. News & World Report and other national outlets. His maternal grandparents, Hale and Lindy Boggs, were both longtime Democratic Congressional representatives from Louisiana.

“I grew up in D.C. with kind of a tradition of public service. My grandparents were members of Congress. My parents were both journalists. And I’d always been around politics and policy,” said Roberts, who has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Duke University and a law degree from Georgetown University. “I always thought that if I had the opportunity to do something like that, I would want to do it.”

That opportunity arrived in 2014 when he became budget director for Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. The accomplishment he cites as “the most important thing we did” supported higher education in the state: the $2 billion Connect N.C. Bond initiative. “A billion dollars of that went to higher education, new projects across the UNC system,” he said.

A plan for success

Roberts comes in with some overall goals in mind as he assumes his new role. He plans four steps. “First, do no harm, as it says in the Hippocratic oath. Second, ensure a smooth transition. Third, make sure students and faculty and staff have what they need. And fourth, leave the place a little bit better than how you found it.”

Even in these challenging political times, Roberts said that in North Carolina, “we have a broad bipartisan consensus about the importance of higher education.” He is careful to point out that he is nonpartisan and has always been an “unaffiliated voter.”

“It’s a nonpartisan job. I plan to do it in a nonpartisan way,” he said of being interim chancellor. “To be effective in this role, you need to be able to work with Republicans and Democrats and independents and everybody else. That’s what I’ve done in my past roles.”

But there’s another divide he faces as a graduate of the state’s most famous private university leading its oldest public institution.

“I’m grateful to Duke for bringing me to North Carolina when I was 17 years old. I got a great liberal arts education there, and I guess I’m proof that even Blue Devils can eventually see the light,” he said. “I am a huge college sports fan, not just football and basketball, but soccer and lacrosse and field hockey, and I look forward to cheering on the Tar Heels.”

Roberts and his wife, Liza, live in Raleigh. In 2022, the University of North Carolina Press published Liza’s book the “Art of the State: Celebrating the Visual Art of North Carolina.” The couple has three children, including one currently enrolled in college and a recent college graduate.

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