Graduation is this weekend at UNC Charlotte, but the occasion is bittersweet as the community continues to cope with the shootings in a campus classroom last Tuesday. UNC Charlotte Chancellor Phil Dubois spoke with WFAE’s Lisa Worf about plans to remember the two students killed in the ceremonies and how the university plans to make steps toward recovery.
Lisa Worf: How are this week's graduation ceremonies going to be different than originally planned?
Philip Dubois: In some ways, very different. But at the end of the day what we're trying to do is acknowledge the hard work and dedication of about 4,800 students who will receive degrees and certificates at the undergraduate and graduate level. Of course it will be different because of the tragedy and we're going to try to strike that tone in a couple of different ways. First of all, meet it straight up as we start the ceremony so everyone can acknowledge this is an unusual set of ceremonies. And then also we'll prepare to give degrees in memoriam to the two students who lost their lives, Reed and Riley. Their families will be there - Reed in the morning and Riley in the afternoon - and we'll present those degrees in memoriam to them. And, then, we'll go on with our regular ceremony.
Lisa Worf: You've ordered a review of what happened and the university's response. What questions do you still have about what happened and how events unfolded?
Philip Dubois: I don't personally have any questions. I just think it's good practice to, especially when you have loss of life, to have external parties come in and make sure that everything we trained to do that we did well. If we had some areas where we didn't quite execute, we need to know about those so that we can incorporate that into future training. You may remember, Lisa, I'm not sure maybe it was 10 or 11 years ago we had an explosion on campus and several members of our facilities management crew were injured and one eventually passed away. And we did an external review at that time and we learned a lot about the culture for safety on campus and how we needed to strengthen it. And, obviously, since then we've been fully dedicated to that.
Worf: In the past week, what have you learned about your campus now?
Dubois: I was telling somebody that about 13 years ago when Erskine Bowles first became president the University of North Carolina system he, in a couple of separate public events, said that Charlotte needed to own UNC Charlotte. And that's what I've learned that Charlotte does own UNC Charlotte. And it's been incredible. I'm sorry I'm still a little emotional. I went down to the golf tournament this weekend to say thank you to Johnny Harris and his son, who's the president of the tournament to thank them for what they had done to bring the community together. There were giant boards that the players signed and there were separate boards for the fans and they had to be changed out a couple of times a day because they were so full of signatures. I ran into parents of students, parents of prospective students. I ran into a couple of our kids from our golf teams. It was just an incredible gathering there down at the Wells Fargo.
Worf: In what other ways have you seen Charlotte come together to support UNC Charlotte at this time?
Dubois: We've put up a crowdfund site, not knowing exactly what we would do with any funds, but we have had a donor come forward anonymously and donate $1 million to establish two scholarships in the names of Reed and Riley. These will be full-ride scholarships very much like our Levine scholars. I found that very obviously selfless and heartwarming. And I passed people on the street all the time on campus. I walked around on, I guess Wednesday or Thursday, last week and ran into a lot of people. And we have we have a number of things going on this week. Of course, we're going to continue the counseling for our students and our employees, but there will be therapy dogs today in the student union rotunda from 11 to 2 for people who want to sit down with a friendly pooch. They'll be ice cream. Chartwells has come forward to volunteer food for students - coffee, donuts, pizza - whatever they feel like. So everybody pulled together. It's been it's been just amazing.
Worf: Have students been taking advantage of the counseling services offered?
Dubois: They have and employees as well. And, in fact, David Spano, the director of counseling here was saying that they had a steady stream last week and expected it to continue throughout this week and maybe beyond.
Worf: There was a rally on campus last Friday in which students and faculty were calling for changes to gun laws. Do you think laws need to change to make campuses safer?
Dubois: I'm staying completely out of the political fray. The current law is what it is. You can't bring a gun onto campus unless you keep it locked up in your glove box or your trunk. I wish I didn't even have to deal with that part of it, but it is what it is and we'll let the elected officials deal with the politics. I'm going to stay focused on our family.
Worf: At this point, do you think there are changes the campus can make to make it less likely a shooting could occur again?
Dubois: That'll be a point of the external review, for sure. We're also going to have enhanced security for our commencement ceremonies. Families can expect to go through magnetometers at the Halton arena and, of course, we'll have an enhanced presence there and all throughout the week on campus. But I think the question of how do you make the campus safer is one that I'll let the external experts give us advice about. Honestly though, we're an open campus. I cannot imagine putting magnetometers at every classroom building. That just won't work in the university.
Worf: When do you expect that review will come back?
Dubois: I've charged our Associate Vice Chancellor for Safety and Security John Bogdan with making a recommendation to me about what that group might look like or whether we'll get an external firm that does this kind of work. And we'll get started, but obviously with the summer upon us it probably won't get done until maybe mid-semester in the fall.
Worf: So where now does the university go from here to heal and to recover?
Dubois: I think we're going to take it a day at a time. That's about all you can do. We certainly have experienced our share of trauma. And I think it's just one of those things get through commencement and into the summer session and hang together as a community. That's not going to be easy. But I believe that the strength is here to do it. You've seen all the banners around about Niner Strong. It really does characterize this place. Charlotte strong.