I get it; you’re tired of hearing it, but let me offer up this word for one last period of reflection: unprecedented. That does not just describe the pandemic whose daily victim count now rivals that of 9/11. It also includes the collective bravery, reflection, pain and pride necessitated by such an eventful year. We all spent more time alone than we probably would have liked while also feeling like small inconsequential subplots of a worldwide tragedy. Our losses and defeats were all unique and deeply personal, and yet defining events were so global that we grieved collectively. As the year draws to a close and we reflect on the past 12 months, the bottom line is that we made it y’all. Let’s look back at how the year unfolded at UNC Charlotte:
On Jan. 8, UNC Charlotte officially opened the doors to its new recreational facility, UREC. The building was first proposed in 2014 and construction began in July of 2017. At 148,000 sq.ft., UREC includes both an indoor and outdoor pool, four multipurpose courts, five multipurpose studios, 80 group fitness classes a week and outdoor basketball, pickleball and volleyball courts. The project cost $66 million and was funded by university debt and student fees.
School of Data Science opens
UNC Charlotte became the first university in the Carolinas and the third in the country to create a school of data science. The School of Data Science (SDS) is an industry-university partnership led by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Belk College of Business, the College of Health and Human Services and the College of Computing and Informatics. It offers a B.S. in data science, master of data science and business analytics, and master of health informatics and analytics.
“Students don't need to be computer scientists to succeed in this field. Our undergraduate degree is for anyone with a curiosity and a desire to solve the world’s biggest problems,” Executive Director Doug Hague told the Niner Times.
Remembrance Commission recommendations approved
Chancellor Dubois accepted the final recommendations made by the Niner Nation Remembrance Commission for the memorialization of the shooting that occurred on April 30, 2019. This included the construction of a permanent, communal and interactive memorial in Belk Plaza between the fountain and Kennedy building as well as a series of exhibits to be mounted in Atkins Library, a Day of Remembrance, named scholarships dedicated to victims Reed Parlier and Riley Howell, and repurposing Kennedy 236, the site of the shooting, into a space for remembrance.
“It is my great hope that the actions we’re taking to remember and honor the victims will serve as a meaningful and lasting reminder of the strength, compassion and enduring spirit within our UNC Charlotte community,” Dubois wrote in a statement to the community.
Tornado hits campus
You very well may have forgotten that a tornado struck campus on the morning of Thursday, Feb. 6. The University sent out two NinerAlerts instructing students to seek shelter and sounded a campus-wide alarm. News writer Emily Kottak wrote, “Some professors let students out of classes early, but that involved students being outside in the undesirable weather. Others continued teaching while even more gathered their students into interior hallways or basements. It seemed there was a lack of preparation and confusion on proper execution of an emergency plan.”
“We didn’t get it totally right,” admitted Chancellor Philip Dubois. “I asked a woman where the steps to the Student Union basement were and she told me there wasn’t a basement. I know there is; I built it."
Two UNC Charlotte students run in primary elections
Two UNC Charlotte students and many alumni appeared on North Carolina ballots in the March 3 primary. Cade Lee, a senior at the time majoring in international studies and political science, lost his bid for the District 3 seat of the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners to alumnus George Dunlap. Lee won 25% of the vote, 5,997 votes overall, and won 53% of the votes in the precinct that encompasses UNC Charlotte. Jacob Baum, also a senior at the time majoring in political science, lost his race for the Republican nomination for N.C. House District 75 to incumbent Donny Lambeth. Baum received 32% of the vote, or 2,202 votes.
Students had a chance to vote early at UNC Charlotte’s one-stop voting site in Belk Gym. The site had 2,037 voters during the early voting period, an estimated 98% of which were affiliated with the University.
Student body president and vice president elections
UNC Charlotte hosted its own elections for student body president and vice president at the end of March. Three tickets vied for the positions, and a runoff election took place between Zac Mazag and Gabi Hitchcock (Mazag-Hitchcock) and Tahlieah Sampson and Vince Graham (Sampson-Graham). The Sampson-Graham ticket won and officially began their new positions on April 10.
Classes moved online due to COVID-19
Nine months ago UNC Charlotte and other universities developed their first responses to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. All classes were moved online effective March 23, and students were subsequently evacuated from residence halls. All spring and summer study abroad programs were cancelled, and those students already overseas were required to return to the U.S. Governor Roy Cooper declared a State of Emergency on March 10 and issued a stay-at-home order effective March 26. At the time, Mecklenburg County had the highest number of cases in the state at just over 100, and there were three known cases in the UNC Charlotte community.
UNC Charlotte adopts pass/no credit grading system for spring 2020
In an effort to mitigate students’ stress during COVID-19, schools across the nation, state and UNC Charlotte itself switched to various versions of a pass/fail system for the spring 2020 semester. On March 26, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Joan F. Lorden announced that students had until June 1 to decide whether to utilize a pass/no credit option or stay with the normal grading system (A, B, C, D, F) for each of their classes. The news came after Hunter Bailey started a Change.org petition that received over 10,000 signatures.
An informal Niner Times survey found that 51 percent of the 115 responding UNC Charlotte students planned to utilize the pass/no credit option while 26.1 percent were unsure.
UNC Charlotte designated as a field hospital; plans later cancelled
Within a five-day period, UNC Charlotte announced and cancelled plans to use residence halls in South Village as a field hospital for coronavirus patients. The decisions were made in conjunction with local and state authorities, and were ultimately cancelled when projections for overflow hospital patients became significantly lower than previous predictions.
Dr. Sharon Gaber named first female chancellor
In a Special UNC Board of Governors Meeting on April 28, the Board approved Dr. Sharon Gaber as UNC Charlotte’s fifth chancellor and the second woman to lead the institution. Gaber holds a bachelor's degree from Occidental College, a master's degree from University of Southern California and a doctoral degree in city and regional planning from Cornell University. Before her five years as president of the University of Toledo, she spent six years as provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Arkansas and also served as interim provost at Auburn and as a faculty member and administrator at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
"As an urban planner and lifelong educator, I was impressed with UNC Charlotte’s outstanding reputation in academics, its growing research capabilities and an incredible campus with a vibrant and diverse student population," said Gaber.
One year anniversary of April 30 shooting observed virtually
April 30, 2020 marked the one year anniversary of the campus shooting that killed Riley Howell (‘21) and Ellis “Reed” Parlier (‘19) and injured Drew Pescaro, (‘19), Sean DeHart, (‘20), Rami Al-Ramadhan (‘20), and Emily Houpt (‘23). Howell, who tackled the shooter to the ground, and Parlier, who was presumed to be the first victim, are both remembered as heroes.
Among the many disruptions caused by COVID-19 was the condensing of the Day of Remembrance into an online format, including the cancellation of the remembrance concert at the Blumenthal. This day was the culmination of months of planning by the Niner Nation Remembrance Commission intended to mourn and honor those impacted by April 30, 2019.
The Niner Times published a special edition dedicated to April 30, including interviews with shooting victim Drew Pescaro, Chancellor Dubois, security officials, and several students who were in the classroom or on campus when the tragedy occurred, and a few professors.
“A year for me, it hasn't been January to January. It's been April to April,” Pescaro said.
Adjustments to fall 2020 announced
It might be difficult to imagine a time when there were hopes of a normal fall semester, but conversations like these were taking place throughout the spring. On May 4, Chancellor Dubois announced that the fall semester would start two weeks later than previously anticipated in order to give faculty time to prepare for online courses, avoid the projected COVID-19 peak in late July and accommodate the Republican National Convention set to take place Aug. 24-27 at the Spectrum Center.
The academic calendar was finalized on May 29. To make up for the two week delay, the University adopted a plan to eliminate fall break, eliminate Thanksgiving Eve break, end classes on Dec. 15 and hold exams from Dec. 15 to Dec. 23. It was also announced that the spring 2021 semester would start on Jan. 20, extending winter break by three days. It was also announced that many classes would be delivered remotely or in a hybrid format.
The announcement came days after SGA published the results of their referendum on the fall 2020 calendar. Of the nearly 3,000 students that voted, 89% opposed UNC Charlotte’s academic calendar while 90%supported SGA’s proposed schedule of maintaining the original start date of Aug. 24 and utilizing remote learning until Sept. 7 in order to preserve breaks and end the semester earlier.
Center City Building named in honor of Dubois
The Center City Building was renamed as The Dubois Center at UNC Charlotte Center City in order to honor the legacy of Chancellor Philip Dubois and his wife Lisa. The building is one of many large projects overseen by Dubois. In his time as chancellor he established a $1.2 billion facility construction and renovation program where multiple buildings, including the UREC, were built, reported news writer Kathryn Caudill.
Black Lives Matter protests
Protesters gathered in Uptown Charlotte every night beginning May 29 and throughout June as part of the resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement. The group was founded in 2013 and gained a huge following after the murder of George Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. The summer protests may have even been the largest civil rights movement in U.S. history.
Some of these Charlotte protests became violent, mostly due to instigation by the police who used tactics like cornering nonviolent protestors in a parking garage and shooting them with pepper balls. Mayor Vi Lyles and Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners Chair George Dunlap jointly signed a local State of Emergency that went into effect on May 30 at noon.
UNC Charlotte students joined the movement through a “march against injustice” organized by Josh Mason (‘22), Pruthu Patel (‘22) and Kyle Uy (‘23). Hundreds of students walked around the University City area despite the summer heat. Among the attendees were Associate Vice Chancellor and Dean of Students Christine Davis, Chief of UNC Charlotte Police Jeffrey Baker and District 5 Mecklenburg County Commissioner Susan B. Harden.
UNC Charlotte faculty speak out against racism
On June 4, the UNC Charlotte Africana Studies Department released a statement “to call attention to the intersection of Blackness, state sanctioned violence, anti-Blackness and structural violence.”
They were joined by the departments of Religious Studies, Anthropology and Communications, who also issued statements in support of racial justice. The College of Health and Human Services' Diversity, Inclusion via Equity Committee and the School of Social Work released their own statements as well, and Chancellor Dubois gave a statement on George Floyd's death.
The Africana Studies Department also began hosting monthly online forums to discuss issues related to race.
Criticisms of the Jerry Richardson Stadium’s name resurface
Following the removal of the Jerry Richardson statue from the Panthers Stadium on June 10, UNC Charlotte faced renewed public outcry for their decision in the fall of 2018 to keep Richardson’s name on their football stadium after Sports Illustrated revealed several allegations of Richardson committing sexist and racist misconduct. In 2013, he signed a contract to donate a total of $10 million to the Athletic Foundation of UNC Charlotte in increments of $1 million until June 2022. The gift agreement included several stipulations like the controversial name change.
On June 18, the Student Senate passed the Stadium Renaming Act, applying pressure to the University to “explore the option of renaming the Jerry Richardson Football Stadium.”
In a June 16 statement to the Niner Times, spokeswoman Buffie Stephens affirmed that the University would not reconsider removing the name.
UNC Charlotte faculty group demands dismissal of vice chancellor of safety and security
On June 11, UNC Charlotte’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (UNCC-AAUP) sent a letter to Chancellor Phil Dubois and other administrators demanding the termination of Associate Vice Chancellor for Safety and Security John Bogdan due to his past position as warden of Guantanamo Bay.
The UNCC-AAUP’s letter concerned actions and policies that occurred from 2012 to 2014 under Bogdan’s watch including genital searches of Muslim detainees, treatment of hunger strikers and monitoring confidential attorney-client meetings, among other offenses.
The memorandum marked the first organized effort against the associate vice chancellor since the “Coalition to Remove John Bogdan" formed in Oct. 2019.
Chancellor Dubois remained steadfast in his support of Bogdan and gave no indication that he would consider Bogdan’s termination. Instead, he told the Niner Times that he asked a group to develop a proposal for a campus police oversight committee that would include students, faculty and staff.
For the first time since 2000, Charlotte 49ers Athletics announced a new brand identity for the school and athletic department. On June 23, the school went live on YouTube to showcase the logos and new trademarks. The phrases “All-In-C” and “BoldRush” are at the forefront of the new identity, wrote Niner Times Sports Editor Bradley Cole. The change came after the athletics program had one of their most successful seasons in program history.
Phil Dubois retires after 15 years as UNC Charlotte’s chancellor
On June 30, former chancellor Phil Dubois stepped down from his tenure as the UNC System’s longest serving president and UNC Charlotte’s fourth chancellor. Dubois was inaugurated as chancellor in 2005 after serving as president of the University of Wyoming. A first-generation college student himself, Dubois dedicated his entire career to higher education, earning a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1972 from the University of California, Davis, and a master’s and doctoral degree in political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He later served as UNC Charlotte’s provost from 1991 to 1997.
UNC Charlotte mandates face masks be worn on campus
As strange as it is now to think of a time when face masks weren’t required in public, the University announced on July 3 that they would be required during the fall 2020 semester.
External review of April 30 campus shooting
In early July Chancellor Dubois shared a summary of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA) and the National Police Foundation’s (NPF) review of the campus shooting. The organizations were contracted out in July 2019 for $350,000.
The report included recommendations for increasing campus safety and identified two areas where UNC Charlotte was not as prepared as it could have been on April 30: It was not clearly articulated when the campus lockdown should be lifted, and control of the response was transferred from UNC Charlotte Police and Public Safety (PPS) to CMPD without advance coordination of certain decisions.
Chancellor Sharon L. Gaber begins tenure
On July 20, Dr. Sharon L. Gaber began her term as UNC Charlotte’s fifth chancellor. She is the second woman to lead the institution (after founder Bonnie Cone) and the first woman to serve as chancellor.
Gaber came to UNC Charlotte at an unprecedented time in higher education as universities deliberated how to operate during the coronavirus pandemic. She is also charged with continuing remembrance and security efforts after the shooting on April 30, 2019 and overseeing UNC Charlotte’s continuous enrollment and campus growth.
Niner University Elementary opens remotely
On Aug. 17, Niner University Elementary at Amay James welcomed its first students to a remote semester. The school marked the sixth in the state to open as part of the North Carolina General Assembly’s UNC Laboratory School Initiative, a program created to serve students in low-performing schools.
Workers sue UNC System and UNC Charlotte over fall reopening plans
As tens of thousands of students returned to UNC campuses in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, faculty and staff sued the UNC System over unsafe working conditions. Lead plaintiffs included members of the North Carolina Public Service Workers Union (UE Local 150) and the North Carolina American Association of University Professors.
No students in the UNC System were required to test negative for COVID-19 before returning to campus, and universities like Chapel Hill and N.C. State began reporting clusters of cases days after their semesters began.
UNC Charlotte workers were asked to come in at 3:30 a.m. to clean before classes started. Housekeepers were responsible for cleaning a housing unit following a confirmed positive case of COVID-19 and were trained to clean the residence halls where students were set to quarantine.
Start of in-person instruction delayed until Oct. 1
On Aug. 23, Chancellor Gaber announced that UNC Charlotte would begin the semester online with plans to reinstate in-person instruction on Oct. 1. Move-in to residence halls was delayed until Sept. 26 except for international students, RAs and other students with extenuating circumstances.
The announcement came after 23 members of UNC Charlotte's public health faculty sent a letter to Chancellor Gaber urging her to begin the semester online. At the time, the University reported only four cases of COVID-19 on its main campus.
Campus workers deliver petition to Chancellor Gaber
A few days before remote classes began at UNC Charlotte, campus workers and North Carolina Public Service Workers Union members gathered outside of Cato Hall to deliver a list of demands to Chancellor Gaber. Among them were daily N95 masks and symptom screening, no 3:00 a.m. shifts and at least 25% additional hazard pay.
UNC Charlotte released a statement on Sept. 3 in response to the rally, saying “The University has taken several measures to protect essential workers, in line with CDC guidance, including providing personal protective equipment daily, shifting schedule times to support physical distancing, and deploying new technology to promote safety measures. We continue to listen to the needs of our employees and work with staff supervisors to ensure that proper protocols are in place to protect the health and safety of the entire campus community.” They did not directly address the workers’ demands, however.
UNC Charlotte launches the Niner Health Check
Starting Sept. 7, all students and faculty were required to complete the Niner Health Check, a survey of symptoms associated with COVID-19.
CAPS limits individual therapy sessions
UNC Charlotte’s Center for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) decreased the number of individual therapy sessions allotted to students each year in an effort to serve more people. Previously, students were allowed up to 12 sessions per year; now, that number is capped at 4-6. The center attributed the change to increased demand, long wait times and a stagnant budget.
Dr. Cheryl Waites Spellman appointed as interim diversity and inclusion leader
On Sept. 8, 2020, Chancellor Sharon Gaber announced Dr. Cheryl Waites Spellman, Ed.D. as the new Interim Special Assistant to the Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion at UNC Charlotte. Waites Spellman began this new, temporary position on Sept. 16, and a search for a permanent leader will take place in the spring semester. This position was put in place to “strengthen and expand our efforts” to make UNC Charlotte a welcoming environment for learning and teaching and came after calls from faculty to create a chief of diversity position in 2015 and 2016.
Enrollment surpasses 30,000
On Sept. 26, UNC Charlotte announced that enrollment had surpassed 30,000 students for the first time in the school's history. This milestone made it the second-largest university in the UNC System after N.C. State, wrote news intern McKinley Campbell.
In fall 2019, the student body consisted of 29,615 students.This fall, the University accepted 4,000 freshmen, 2,600 transfer students and 2,400 new graduate students, totaling a student body of 30,146.
The number of positive coronavirus cases remained low throughout September as students took all of their classes from home. On Sept. 7, the University announced an off-campus COVID-19 cluster involving eight students residing together in two private residences. On Sept. 17, the football game against UNC Chapel Hill was canceled after several members of the offensive line were placed into quarantine following the University’s COVID-19 contact tracing protocols. During the two weeks prior, there were three positive cases of coronavirus found in UNC Charlotte’s football team.
In-person classes begin and students return to campus
On Sept. 22, the University confirmed its plans to begin some in-person instruction on Oct. 1. Students began filing back into residence halls on Sept. 26.
The decision came after UNC Charlotte’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors sent a letter on Sept. 18 imploring university administration to continue remote instruction and establish a clear plan for random testing of asymptomatic people. They also asked that no employee be required to work on campus.
At the time, UNC Charlotte reported a 1.1% positivity rate in testing and Mecklenburg County’s was 6.4%.
UNC Charlotte observes Indigenous Peoples’ Day for the first time
On Oct. 12, UNC Charlotte observed Indigenous Peoples’ Day for the first time. The formal recognition was directed by Dr. Cheryl Waites Spellman, interim special assistant to the chancellor for diversity and inclusion.
Spellman was prompted by the recent legislation passed on Oct. 8 by the Student Government Organization (SGA) dubbed the Indigenous Peoples’ Day Act, wrote news writer Kathryn Caudill. This legislation encouraged the University to observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day and to, “acknowledge and educate the UNC Charlotte community about the historical mistreatment of indigenous people.”
Racist Zoom bombings
Over a one month period, UNC Charlotte’s student chapters of the NAACP, College Democrats and the Black Student Union (BSU) all had their virtual meetings interrupted by racially charged Zoom bombings. It was unclear whether the Zoom bombers were affiliated with each other, though each organization said they believed the perpetrator to be male. The University opened its own investigation and affirmed its commitment to creating an equitable campus.
UNC Charlotte releases official spring 2021 calendar
On Oct. 19, Chancellor Gaber announced the revised spring 2020 semester schedule. The first day of classes for the semester will commence Jan. 20 with in-person instruction for only select classes, much like the fall semester. Spring break will still occur Mar. 29 through Apr. 3; however, all classes will be moved to online instruction afterwards. Classes will end on May 5 and final exams will take place May 7 through May 13.
The University will continue with health precautions like Niner Health Checks, wastewater testing and contact tracing. As a new safety measure, students returning to campus will be required to get tested for COVID-19 before the start of the spring semester.
Men's cross country wins C-USA championships; women's team places second
Charlotte’s men’s and women’s cross country teams traveled to Birmingham, Alabama on Oct. 31 for the Conference USA Championships, reported sports writer Amanda Olson. The men’s team took home the gold, winning the Conference USA Championship. This is only the second time to they have won in the history of the cross country program. The women’s team also brought the heat, taking home second place.
During the month of October, the University tested five residence halls after detecting SARS-CoV-2 through wastewater testing. They also reported a cluster of seven cases involving student-athletes and staff within the Men’s Basketball Team as well as one off-campus cluster involving five students in a private residence. By the end of the month, the University had administered 10,087 tests since July 1 with a 1.5% positivity rate. There were 526 confirmed positive cases in total.
National, statewide and local elections
71.2% of eligible North Carolina voters participated in the November 2020 election, breaking a 40-year record set in 2008. Young voters especially turned out in record-setting rates. Many people voted early due to COVID-19, and UNC Charlotte hosted an early voting site at Belk Gym.
North Carolina was one of the last states to certify its election results. The battleground state supported Donald Trump, although Joe Biden ultimately secured the presidency. Senator Thom Tillis, R, was selected for a second term, giving Republicans at least 49 senators. NC sent five Democrats and eight Republicans to the U.S. House of Representatives, including Alma Adams, D, from Mecklenburg County’s district. Nationally, Democrats maintained a majority in the U.S. House.
Governor Roy Cooper, D, secured a second term with 51.52% of the statewide vote. Democrat Josh Stein won the attorney general position after a close race that required a recount.
Democrats took the state auditor and secretary of state positions while Republicans won the state treasurer, superintendent of public instruction, commissioner of labor, commissioner of insurance, and commissioner of agriculture offices.
Republicans secured their majority in the State Senate, winning 29 seats compared to Democrats’ 21. In Mecklenburg County’s district, incumbent Mujtaba Mohammed won, D, with 78.14% of the votes.
The NC House of Representatives also remained under Republican control, securing 65 seats compared to Democrats’ 55. Democrat Carla Cunningham will represent District 106 where Charlotte is located.
Democrats secured all of the Mecklenburg County Commissioner positions. Democrat Fred Smith was elected as the Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds and Rich George secured the position as Mecklenburg Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor. Charlotte voters approved all three referenda appropriating bonds for transportation, housing and neighborhood improvement.
UNC Charlotte employees donated at least $110,084 to political campaigns in 2020, 79.4% of which was directed to Democrats and 3.4% to Republicans. This was more than any year prior and the second most in the UNC System.
Students return to online classes following Thanksgiving break
As announced on Sept. 22 by Chancellor Gaber, the University transitioned back to completely remote instruction after Thanksgiving break. Only those students who were exempted by the University were allowed to remain in on-campus residence halls.
Pass/no credit grading system announced for fall 2020
Starting on Nov. 23, students were able to choose to replace their letter grades with pass/no credit. For the fall 2020 semester, students can select up to two courses for pass/no credit by Dec. 14. For the spring and summer 2021 terms, students can choose pass/no credit by Jan. 27 and May 25 respectively. Each student gets a maximum of three courses that they are allowed to replace their grade with pass/no credit for the entire school year (spring and summer courses included). Only two of the three pass/no credit courses can be used for the fall 2020 semester. The remaining pass/no credit course can be used for the spring and summer 2021 semesters, reported news writer Catherine Sawyers.
During the month of November, UNC Charlotte tested six residence halls after detecting SARS-CoV-2 in the wastewater. The University also announced two clusters in the athletics department: one with eight cases in the Basketball Team and another with seven cases in the Football Team. On Nov. 20, the University reported an off-campus cluster of 11 students living in private residences.
As of Nov. 29, the University had administered 17,863 COVID-19 tests and reported 943 cases since July 1. The positivity rate was at a high of 2.3%. Mecklenburg County’s positivity rate was 8.9%.
So far this month, UNC Charlotte has tested three residence halls for COVID-19 after detecting SARS-CoV-2 in the wastewater. As of Dec. 11, the University has completed 19,025 tests and reported 1,025 cases of COVID-19 since July 1. The University’s positivity rate remains at a high of 2.3% while Mecklenburg County’s positivity rate is a staggering 10.9%.