Roberts to carry on Blackburn's mission at UVA

Greg Roberts (right) will succeed the late Jack Blackburn (left) as UVA's Dean of Admissions.
PHOTOS BY DAN ADDISON

In the end, UVA didn't have to look far and wide to find a replacement for its longtime and beloved Dean of Admissions John Blackburn, who died January 21 after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Yesterday, the university announced that Greg Roberts, Blackburn's right hand man for the past six years, has been selected to fill the role– a hiring decision Blackburn himself had urged the University to make in a letter to the hiring committee before his death.

In a release announcing the decision, UVA president John Casteen called Roberts "the logical choice," and described him asĀ  "seasoned, thoughtful, respected by colleagues here and nationally."

While it's a plum promotion to be savored, for Roberts, climbing to the top rung on UVA's admissions department ladder is "bittersweet" as he grieves the loss of his "fair, honest and humble" mentor whose legacy, he says, he hopes to carry on.

Roberts says he got his first taste of Blackburn's generosity and humility while he was working in the Georgetown University admissions office and applying to work at UVA. After having one interview in Charlottesville, he says, Blackburn called him wanting to spend more time with the candidate before making a hiring decision.

Blackburn didn't, however, want Roberts to have to make the two-hour trip a second time, so he suggested they meet in a less formal setting in-between:

"I'm wearing a suit, but we sat at McDonald's in Madison, talked about life in general, family, sports, books, and things like that," says Roberts. "It was so typical of him."

Although Blackburn was able to work through last summer, by fall, says Roberts, he was too sick to come to work. Roberts has been filling both roles since then, sorting through a record number of applications– about 22,000 to fill the 3,200 slots available. (He says about 6,000 will be offered admission.)

While Roberts says he hopes to continue Blackburn's legacy of inclusiveness– Blackburn was known for increasing diversity at the school and for promoting AccessUVA, which guarantees financial support to students accepted at UVA who can't pay tuition and costs– he expects to face new challenges, particularly with the country's current economic woes.

"We're in a time when people are having difficulty affording college," says Roberts, adding that tuition is not the only cost of college these days.

"There's a widening gap between how students prepare to get into college," he says. "Some have consultants, essay workshops, while [for] others there's no way they can do that."

Technology, too, is rapidly changing the face of college applications. Roberts oversaw UVA's transition to online applications this year, and he says he will continue to look for innovative ways to communicate with and attract prospective students.

The next few months are the busiest time of the year, says Roberts, noting that the application decision deadline is April 1. "This will be Jack's last class," notes Roberts. "That's what's driving us– to bring in a great class for Jack."

After that, says Roberts, it'll be time to look to the future.

"We'll evaluate how we've done this year," he says, "and think about how we can creatively address challenges ahead."

1 comment

Windfall:
I guess Moran can now reduce her threats to the classroom by $400K. It is too bad she uses the classroom as the first place to cut spending (to raise public attention) and not any of the high priced executives, directors, coordinators or assistant whatevers positions. Do we REALLY need a bulging administrative staff/salaries Pam?