UNC-Pembroke Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings says his attending a rally for President Donald Trump in Lumberton last week was “inconsistent” with how he has encouraged students, faculty and staff to behave during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an e-mail to the university community this weekend, Cummings said he attended the rally at the invitation of Lumbee tribal members as a way to support the tribe’s quest for federal recognition.
Both Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden support federal recognition for the tribe. Trump’s announcement of his support came weeks after Biden, whose campaign has not been holding large-scale rallies due to concerns about community spread of the coronavirus.
The U.S. has seen more than 8.7 million infections and more than 225,000 deaths, with recent spikes bringing the seven day rolling average of new cases to a new high of 68,767.
Cummings, a retired surgeon, has discouraged students, faculty and staff from attending large-scale gatherings as the school has seen a recent increase in infections and infection clusters.
“Like many in our country and across the world, you may be feeling frustrated and tired of COVID-19 affecting your daily life as it restricts our ability to connect with each other in-person,” Cumming wrote in an e-mail to the campus community just last week. “But please don’t let that stand in the way of our success. We have come so far this semester, and I ask you to please take these final weeks very seriously. We must wear our masks and practice social distancing without fail. And please, do not attend or host gatherings of any size if possible.”
One day after writing that e-mail, Cummings attended the large-scale Trump rally.
Cummings’ e-mail on attending the rally, in its entirety:
For essentially my adult life, I have consistently and strongly advocated for full federal recognition for the Lumbee Tribe. In recent weeks, many elected officials have publicly confirmed their support of Lumbee recognition, an outcome the Lumbee Tribe has worked toward over the past 100 years. Advancing and supporting this region is one of our university’s driving goals, and the impact of the education, health and housing benefits full federal recognition would bring to UNCP, Robeson County and southeastern North Carolina is a critical step forward in that path. Most importantly, recognition is the just course to correct an injustice.
I was asked to accompany a delegation of tribal members to an event in Lumberton, where the President was to offer his full support of Lumbee recognition efforts. Both presidential candidates have expressed their support for the Lumbee people, and I remain grateful to them and all who support these long-overdue efforts regardless of political affiliation.
My commitment and passion for tribal recognition influenced my decision to attend the announcement. I understand and accept the concern and disappointment over participation in a gathering that was well over our campus limitations. While I did maintain social distancing given the seating arrangement provided and wore my mask throughout the event, it was still inconsistent with how we have navigated the fall semester under my direction.
Robin Gary Cummings, MD Chancellor
Online reaction to the e-mail from students, parents and staff has been swift and negative. A number have noted the e-mail does not contain an actual apology, simply an acknowledgement from the chancellor that his behavior was “inconsistent” and that he understands and accepts peoples’ disappointment.