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New UNC Charlotte chancellor balances challenges, possibilities
Sharon Gaber wants more inclusive campus
Published Wednesday, August 12, 2020 5:40 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

UNC Charlotte Chancellor Sharon Gaber is the first woman to lead the school since Bonnie Cone more than a half-century ago.

Sharon L. Gaber wants Black students to thrive at UNC Charlotte.

The school’s fifth chancellor replaced Philip Dubois on July 20 as the first woman to lead the institution since founder Bonnie Cone over 50 years ago. Gaber joined Charlotte from the University of Toledo, where she was that school’s first female president. Gaber left an impression there, earning national recognition for increasing enrollment, improving the graduation rate and helping students stay in school. Education Dive named her one of five leaders in higher education to watch in 2018.

Gaber’s arrival at UNCC coincides with a pandemic and social unrest following the deaths of Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed in her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky by police, and George Floyd when police knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“In light of George Floyd killing, and Breonna Taylor, we are obviously paying attention,” Gaber said. “Part of what I did was come in and say diversity and inclusion is critically important.”

Gaber has met with various groups within the university tasked with addressing how to create a diverse and inclusive environment not just for students, but faculty and staff.

“What I’ve been doing is meeting with various groups to gather input and feedback and talk a little bit about next steps to be able to move things forward,” Gaber said. “I also want to do that with student groups when I have the opportunity, when they are coming back to campus.”

UNCC, which enrolls 28,412 students from 47 states and 105 countries, is the third largest of 17 UNC system schools, and the fastest growing. Thirty-seven percent of the student body consists of first-generation collegians.

“What I do know is we have to continue to make progress,” Gaber said. “Some of the things are, what are we doing about diverse administrators [and] faculty members? How are we helping to recruit and retain Black and brown students, and make sure that they are successful so we are reducing the social mobility gap that exists in our broader community. I can tell you that it’s high on the agenda and my radar, and I believe that we are going to start making some progress very soon.”

Classes are scheduled to resume for in-person instruction on Sept. 7. Faculty, staff and students will receive a “return-to-campus” bag containing a digital thermometer, hand sanitizer, disposable and cloth face coverings, the Niner Pledge committing to protect their own health and wellbeing as well as that of others, in addition to resources to keep safe. Face coverings will be required indoors when near others, as well as in all classrooms. Signs around campus will encourage physical distancing.

The school is incorporating additional cleaning measures for high-traffic areas. Foot traffic will be one-way when possible, and Niner Transit will operate at reduced capacity with increased cleaning. Dine-in seating will operate at 50% capacity, with appropriate distancing between diners. An on-campus testing facility will be available at no cost to students and employees, with results expected in 36 hours.

Should the need to quarantine arise, the university would prefer it be done off-campus. However, if an on-campus resident is unable to quarantine off-campus, the school will provide quarantine-specific housing and support. The school will also monitor and sample wastewater at various campus sites to proactively detect the presence of the virus and identify the location of possible outbreaks.

“We’re looking at prevention,” Gaber said. “We’re looking at symptom checking. We’re looking at what are opportunities for isolation and quarantine, and we’re looking at how do we detect ahead of an outbreak. We actually have faculty researchers who are doing wastewater analysis of our residence halls where they will be able to detect an outbreak before it actually occurs based on the wastewater that’s coming out of a residence hall.”


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