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Published June 12, 2024

Meet the new Vice President for University Services Alice Roberts-Davis

Roberts-Davis sat down with the Minnesota Daily to talk about the position’s responsibilities, her past experience and goals for the future.
Image by Photo courtesy of Alice Roberts-Davis
The new Vice President has a long background in public service, most recently as the Commissioner of the Department of Administration for the state of Minnesota.

The University of Minnesota’s Senior Vice President for Finance and Operation Myron Frans introduced Alice Roberts-Davis as the new Vice President of University Services at the Board of Regents meeting on July 12.

University Services is responsible for creating and sustaining the University’s facilities, including housing students, serving food, heating and cooling buildings, renovating facilities and creating an environmentally sustainable campus.

Roberts-Davis previously served as Commissioner of the Department of Administration and Assistant Commissioner for Property and Procurement for the state of Minnesota, where she led the state’s purchasing and real estate projects and managed a $2.5 billion budget.

“Vice President Roberts-Davis is a talented and highly-regarded leader with extensive experience in real estate, capital projects, facilities management and complex operation management,” Frans said at the July Board meeting.

Roberts-Davis sat down with the Minnesota Daily to talk about her new position at the University.

Minnesota Daily: What influenced you to accept the position of Vice President for University Services?

Alice Roberts-Davis: “So many things. It was just such an incredible opportunity. I obviously respect the institution greatly, and higher education is something that I really value, and these positions don’t become available very frequently at all. It is an incredibly important job at an extremely prestigious institution. And so that, of course, was in the forefront of my mind as I was thinking about the opportunity. In addition to that, I was in an appointed position within the Governor’s cabinet, and so those positions are at a finite duration. So as I thought about long term, what my plan would be, I thought that even though I was really enjoying the work I was doing, and we were getting really wonderful things done for the state of Minnesota, that I can also contribute in a really big way here at the University. The job itself was so similar to the work that I was doing at the state, but even though that role had a statewide purview, this actually feels like a bigger job because, the fact that we’re basically running a city here and pretty much all of the operations of that fall under the purview of the university services. So it’s an incredible opportunity, a University that’s been recognized by Forbes Magazine for being one of the best higher education employers, working with people who value the mission, what it is that we’re doing: giving education to young people. All of those things factored into my decision.”

Daily: How has your prior work experience helped you prepare for this role?

Roberts-Davis: “It’s probably the most perfect precursor to this role that you can imagine because it’s absolutely almost all of the same things. Not in the higher education environment, which is the biggest change that I would say, but I was responsible for facilities, real estate, construction, procurement, sustainability, all of those things are things that University Services here manages, and there’s so much more because there’s such a student facing aspect of it like residential and dining. Those are the things that we’re mostly responsible for, but very closely aligned to what I did in my previous role, and we were very successful at the state and I hope to translate all of that success to what we’re doing here for us.”

Daily: What will your biggest responsibilities be as Vice President for University services?

Roberts-Davis: “The biggest responsibility is going to be meeting the needs of our students, faculty, staff, researchers and visitors and they have very wide-ranging needs and ever-changing needs and we will be there to serve those diverse needs as best we can. We want to be responsive, we want to be cost-effective, we want to be sustainable and all of those things are important, but sometimes competing priorities that we’ll have to manage very closely. These things also take time. We have to be patient that we’re making these changes and reinvesting in the University in a way that’s responsible. It’s a really big organization, we have over 32 million square feet of space and 28,000 acres of land, so it’s a very big place and the scope of the role covers all of that. So we have a lot to be cognizant of when we’re making decisions and moving forward. I’ll be responsible for the team that acquires and disposes of real estate and plans for the long-term future of our campuses and designs them, constructs them, renovates our buildings, all of that. We have to keep them cool, clean them and also make sure that we’re maintaining the lawns, clearing the snow and even changing the light bulbs. So there’s an awful lot that goes into keeping an operation like this running efficiently.”

Daily: What are your specific goals in this new position?

Roberts-Davis: “For my personal goals, I want to make sure that we offer an exceptional service to the students, faculty and staff. It’s really important for us to continue to be responsive to their needs, and to also be innovative when we can and ensuring that we deliver our services as efficiently and effectively as possible. Another goal of mine is to regularly engage with stakeholders and the campuses because there’s nothing more valuable than that direct feedback from the people who are here to support me. An additional layer of that is also hearing from my team who is doing the work because I think the people who are doing the work every day have the best perspective on how we can improve, change, adapt and provide services even better. We also have a lot of climate action goals that we have to work toward as well and we should be a leader and a role model on how we’re effectively implementing those across the system. So those would be my goals, it would be all about team building service and ensuring that the University maintains its leadership position on global issues.”

Daily: What would you like to say to students of the University to introduce yourself?

Roberts-Davis: “I went to the University of Illinois for my undergraduate degree and I have a juris doctor, a law degree, from Florida State University. I have been a lifelong learner myself, and so coming to a University has been really emotional for me on some days in a strange way as I walk around and see all of the opportunities that are here. Walking down Scholars Walk a few days ago was a true experience for me to realize what I’m in the midst of and all of the greatness that is the history of the school and the future of this school was really emotional for me. I have a college student: my only daughter is a rising sophomore at Vanderbilt University, and so I also look at our work through the lens of a parent and what a parent would expect when their child is away in school. How would a parent want their dining and residential services to be, how they would want the classrooms to function, and what they would want for all of those experiences? Those are things that really make a difference in how you are viewing your educational experience and how a lot of people are viewing their first time away from home. So I look at it through the lens of both an administrator and also a parent and just really want to see the U continue to succeed.”

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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