IN MEMORIAM: Walter Robinson, Enrollment Leader

Walter Robinson speaks from podium, with backdrop of blue and gold balloons.
Associate Vice Chancellor Walter Robinson speaks to potential Aggies during Achieve UC at Sacramento Charter High School in 2014. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Quick Summary

  • He led Undergraduate Admissions and Enrollment Management, 2011-18, capping a career of nearly 40 years in higher education
  • Committed to educational equality, to underserved schools and students, he ensured gains in diversity as enrollment climbed
  • He’s remembered for his wisdom and wit, his kind nature, and rapport with students and staff all across campus

Walter Robinson, who as the leader of Undergraduate Admissions and the office of Enrollment Management built a more diverse student body as enrollment climbed amid the 2020 Initiative, died Sunday (June 9) of heart failure at his home in Vallejo. He was 66.

Robinson had retired last September after seven years at UC Davis and nearly 40 years in admissions and student services in higher education.

“Walter was beloved by all for his wisdom, his kind nature, his humor and his passion for making sure higher education was accessible for students of all backgrounds,” Chancellor Gary S. May said. “I have many good memories of Walter, including when we spoke at local schools to empower students to apply to UC Davis. His commitment to diversity and inclusion made UC Davis a better place.”

Robinson started at UC Davis as the executive director of Undergraduate Admissions in 2011 and was elevated to associate vice chancellor in 2015, tasked with establishing the Enrollment Management office, comprising four main units — Undergraduate Admissions, Financial Aid and Scholarships, University Registrar, and Enrollment Management Analytics — and providing high level administrative oversight for outreach and recruitment programs.

3 administrators pose in high school gym.
Robinson, right, joined Chancellor May and Ebony Lewis, executive director of Undergraduate Admissions, at Achieve UC at Natomas High School in Sacramento, in April 2018. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Ralph J. Hexter, provost and executive vice chancellor, who oversees Enrollment Management, said: “Walter will be remembered for successfully launching this new office that allowed us to conduct our recruitment and enrollment efforts in a unified way, one that has been instrumental in boosting the diversity of our undergraduate student body.

“He was an enthusiastic cheerleader for bringing more underrepresented minorities to UC Davis, and assisting them every step of the way.”

Among his endeavors, Robinson developed a partnership with the Umoja Community Education Foundation, whereby UC Davis has hosted the Umoja Community’s annual Northern California symposium the last five years, drawing up to 200 African Diaspora students to the campus for a day of culturally relevant leadership development and admissions workshops. The UC Office of the President has also joined in, establishing a systemwide partnership with Umoja to support students’ success and transfer opportunities

Excellence in Mentorship Award

Last September, just before Robinson’s retirement, the UC Black Administrators Council presented him with a Harry Le Grande Excellence in Mentorship Award, recognizing his efforts on behalf of African American students, staff and faculty. The council established the award in honor of UC Berkeley’s vice chancellor of Student Affairs upon his retirement at the end of 2016.

2 men side by side, in UC Davis jackets
Provost Hexter and Robinson attend a basketball game at The Pavilion, 2018.

Robinson’s first job at UC Davis, executive director of Undergraduate Admissions, fell under the purview of the Division of Student Affairs, where he worked with Emily Galindo, who now serves as the interim vice chancellor of Student Affairs.

“Walter was a very dear friend who approached every conversation with wisdom and wit,” Galindo said. “His Student Affairs’ colleagues will remember him fondly for the enthusiastic way he went about convincing young people to make UC Davis their school of choice.

“Clearly, relationships were important to him as it was fascinating to join him on a walk across campus and to observe how many students and staff stopped to greet him along the way. We were truly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with him.”

Fresno, Florida, Berkeley, Davis

Robinson graduated from Berkeley High School and continued his education at the College of Alameda before transferring to California State University, Fresno, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree.

Walter Robinson mugshot
Robinson, 2014.

He started his career in higher education in 1980 at his alma mater, first as an Educational Opportunity Program counselor, and also serving as associate director of affirmative action/human relations coordinator (1988-91) and associate director of the University Student Union (1991-94).

He left CSU Fresno for the University of Florida, Gainesville, serving as assistant director of admissions/minority programs coordinator (1994-96) and associate director of admissions and school relations (1996-2005). He then served as assistant vice chancellor and director of undergraduate admissions at UC Berkeley for six years before coming to UC Davis.

Chancellor May recalled a long talk he had with Robinson before he retired, about what the chancellor should do and not do at UC Davis. “He believed deeply in education as a tool of social transformation, and he was an important contributor to my personal transition to UC Davis,” May said.

Since his retirement, Robinson had traveled to China and Ghana, and taken multiple trips to visit his grandchildren around the United States. His survivors also include his wife, Michele Butler-Robinson.

Dateline UC Davis will follow up next week with more information from Robinson’s family.

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