UNC chancellor Lee Roberts sets the standard for principled campus leadership

By Tanner Nau

Chapel Hill, NC – Despite the seemingly countless examples of university presidents exemplifying what not to do when confronted with vile antisemitic mobs, Lee Roberts, the interim chancellor at UNC Chapel Hill, displayed unmatched boldness on behalf of students and the citizens of North Carolina this week.

Roberts, who assumed the post of interim chancellor in January of this year, came to Carolina after a successful financial career in Raleigh. In 2014, he served as Gov. Pat McCrory’s state budget director and has taught at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy for the last five years. Although his time at UNC is likely temporary, he has emerged as an exemplar of principled leadership.

For the past two weeks, higher education has been the primary target for advocates of divestment from Israel, claiming that investments made by universities to companies with ties to Israel are directly funding genocide. Having engulfed the media attention as the latest conflict between students’ free speech rights and the university’s obligation to ensure campus safety, nationwide organizers assured us the protests are “anti-war.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

An unadulterated support for Hamas and other terrorist organizations has been exposed. The calls for a ceasefire have been replaced by calls for a “global intifada” under the guise of the plight of the Palestinian people. Chants like “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” are a common slogan for Hamas and Ivy League students alike, referring to the eradication of the entire state of Israel from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

For days, demonstrators have told Jews to go back to Poland and held signs saying “Death to America.” Others shouted, “Hamas make us proud; kill another soldier now.” On Tuesday, on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, demonstrators were allegedly heard chanting “Heil Hitler.”

The encampment at UNC began early Tuesday morning, mimicking the protest at Columbia. By the afternoon, the demonstrators broke down the barricades and promptly tore down the American flag, replacing it with the Palestinian flag.

Within 45 minutes, Roberts stormed onto the scene, preceded by law enforcement to raise the flag himself. Surrounded by law enforcement, Roberts, dressed in a sharp blue suit, raised the flag again. Moments after, Robert said, “The flag represents all of us. And to take down that flag and put up another flag — no matter what flag it is — [is] antithetical to who we are, what this university stands for, [and] what we have done for 229 years.”

He finished his press conference by promising that the “flag will stand here as long as I am chancellor” and assuring that Carolina will do all they can to ensure student safety. With that, Roberts returned to his office trailed by chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame!”

Defending the flag will forever be an act of honor, not shame.

Soon after, the protestors attempted to lower the American flag again, but they were stopped by a group of fraternity brothers. They were quickly pelted with water, trash, and jeers from their classmates. A photo has gone viral, garnering the entire country’s attention and showcasing these young men as the best our state has to offer. Some were stone-faced, focused up on the flag, others laughing — presumably at the absurdity of their N-95 masks-wearing contemporaries. Regardless, this group of ordinary — presumably apolitical — young men performed their civic duty to protect the flag even in the face of intimidation and violence.

They would not be able to do this if Roberts were to act as other administrators around the country who pontificate and negotiate with the pro-terrorist bloc from their glamorous office. No, Roberts acted, and others followed, showcasing a strain of patriotism scarcely appreciated in our divided polity. Most North Carolinians love this country and will not let any contentious social issue, geopolitical threat, or group of radicals undermine the symbol of hope, freedom, and justice that the United States flag is.

The same day that “Death to America” chants rained out of bashed window frames at Columbia, Roberts and a group of fraternity brothers withstood the vitriol to defend the sanctity of our flag and what it stands for. We, as North Carolinians, have the potential to do the same every time.

Esse Quam Videri. To be rather than to seem.

Lee Roberts and a group of men stood up and acted, setting an example for the nation. Will we follow them?


Tanner is a Politics & Law student-athlete at Rhodes College in Memphis, TN. He has previously interned for the Locke Foundation, the Bastiat Society of Raleigh, and Rep. Patrick McHenry (NC-10). Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.

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