In two speeches on May 21, UNC Pembroke’s Chancellor-elect Dr. Robin G. Cummings said the university that most influenced his life was The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. Dr. Cummings grew up in the shadow of Old Main, and for him, it represents the opportunities that only education can provide.
The University of North Carolina Board of Governors elected Dr. Cummings UNCP’s sixth chancellor in a unanimous vote. Acting on behalf of UNC President Thomas Ross, who was recovering from shoulder surgery, UNC Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Junius Gonzales placed Dr. Cummings’ name in nomination, and Dick Taylor, a board member from Lumberton and former UNCP trustee, made the motion to accept the recommendation.
A Pembroke native and a cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Cummings, 59, will begin his duties on July 15. He leaves the position of deputy secretary for Health Services and acting health director for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. With responsibility for the Division of Medical Assistance, Dr. Cummings is responsible for the health of 1.8 million North Carolinians and a budget of $14 billion.
In a prepared statement President Ross endorsed Dr. Cummings’ selection: “In a succession of challenging jobs in medicine and state government and through his volunteer service to the university and state, Robin Cummings has exhibited great imagination, energy, and leadership. As a Pembroke native, a Lumbee and former chair of the UNC Pembroke Board of Trustees, he understands the university’s rich history, and he is passionate about the larger role UNCP can play in the region and the state. With his broad experience, his profound appreciation for the institution, and his demonstrated commitment to scholarship and public service, Robin Cummings will be a forceful and effective leader for UNCP. We are delighted to bring him back home.”
Speaking at a gathering on campus in the late afternoon, Dr. Cummings remarked that the trip from Chapel Hill to Pembroke was stormy, but when he reached Robeson County, the sun was shining. He was clearly home and in his element.
“I am humbled; I am honored, and I feel that I am ready,” he told a large crowd that was packed into the University Center Annex. “We are deeply honored and grateful and appreciative of this opportunity. We pledge to you that we will work very hard to be the very best chancellor and the very best first lady UNCP has had, and you’ve had some really good ones in the past.”
With him during the day and standing beside him in Pembroke were Dr. Cummings’ wife, Rebecca Godwin Cummings; sons, Mark, David and Adam; and daughter, Amy. Amy and Mark, UNCP graduates, are dentists; David works in Charlotte and Adam is a student at UNC-Chapel Hill. Although Dr. Cummings attended UNC-Chapel Hill as an undergraduate and graduated from the Duke University School of Medicine, he said UNCP played a large role in his early years.
“When asked about the university that influenced my life the most, I say The University of North Carolina at Pembroke,” he said. “To be able to return here .. is an amazing, awesome and blessed opportunity. I am here for one reason and one reason only – to build on a 128-year vision.”
Dr. Cummings met with leaders of the Lumbee Tribe and representatives of students, faculty and staff before speaking on campus. His comments addressed many constituencies of the university and community, and he spoke to his vision for both.
“I plan to listen and to learn from those who love the university as I do,” Dr. Cummings said. “I will reach out to the Lumbee Tribe, to Pembroke, Lumberton and surrounding communities so that we may uplift the entire region. It’s going to take all of us working together to move this university forward.”
The chancellor-elect pledged to sustain the university’s tradition as a gateway of opportunity, and in particular, its tradition of serving first generation students. He said the strategic plan that is in place – to make UNCP a university of choice and to foster student success – is a sound plan.
He laid out several goals:
- To hire a strong provost and several other key leadership positions;
- To expand allied health programs;
- To bring a doctoral program to the university;
- To make UNCP a national leader in American Indian scholarship, teaching and research;
- To build on the success of athletic programs; and
- To launch a major capital fund-raising campaign.
In Chapel Hill and later in Pembroke, Dr. Cummings demonstrated an understanding of UNCP history and its role in his life. His father, the late Rev. Simeon Cummings, who was a respected minister in the Pembroke area, was a 1947 graduate. He recollected visiting the campus as a youngster to get a feel for college life.
“When asked about the university that influenced my life the most, I say ‘The University of North Carolina at Pembroke,’” he said. “To be able to return here .. is an amazing, awesome and blessed opportunity. “I am here for one reason only – to building on a 128-year vision.”
“I am a product of this area; I am a product of education,” he said. “I believe in the transformative power of education for individuals, for families, four our nation. Without question, education is the great equalizer; it is the path to opportunity in this great nation.”
In Chapel Hill and again in Pembroke, Dr. Cummings extolled the vision of the founders and his love for the university. “This is my home,” he said. “This job is not a resume builder for me; This is not a stopover. I love this university, and I am convinced that together with the faculty, staff students and people of Pembroke, this county and the surrounding region, we can build upon the 128-year vision of the founders in a grand and glorious way.”
Dr. Cummings has been engaged with the modern university and has played several important roles in it. He served two years as chairman of the Board of Trustees and a member for four years beginning in 2009. He was chair of the UNCP Foundation (1998 – 2008), the entity that supports fundraising. He is a lifetime member of the Chancellor’s Club, comprised of the university’s elite donors.
With an outstanding career as a surgeon, his resume is full of awards for research, fellowships and numerous published papers and presentations. He lists research interests as pathogenesis of cell death in myocardial ischemia and the use of high-pressure liquid chromatography in biological preparations.
Dr. Cummings has forged a second career in government, first as medical director for Community Care of the Sandhills and then with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. During his tenure leading the state’s Medicaid program, Dr. Cummings successfully led the agency to solve difficult budgeting and billing issues.
Dr. Cummings graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University Medical School. From 1994 – 2004, he practiced medicine with the Pinehurst Surgical Clinic and Moore Regional Hospital, where he chaired the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery (1999-2000) and Section of Cardiovascular and General Surgery (2000-03). After leaving his surgical practice, he remained active with the hospital, serving on the Moore Regional Hospital Board of Trustees and chairing the FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital Foundation.