UCR’s 2020-2021 school year has been anything but uneventful. From continuous COVID-19 restrictions to extreme budget cuts, the university community has had to face many new changes and challenges this year. Here is the past year in review.
In September of 2020, grappling with steep budget cuts, UCR’s Budget Advisory Committee suggested the elimination of the athletics department and the School of Public Policy in a summary of recommendations to UCR Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox. UCR was facing approximately a $70 to $108 million permanent budget shortfall over the next two to three years. The recommendations from the BAC sparked opposition among UCR athletes, the UCR community, SPP students, faculty and the Riverside community, who began the Keep UCR Athletics movement.
In anticipation of fall quarter, UCR established a brand new COVID-19 testing laboratory on campus. It officially opened to all students and staff at the beginning of this month.
In October of 2020, a UCR professor came under fire from students past and present after a series of videos went viral on social media. The videos posted onto TikTok and Twitter on Oct. 22 amassed over 7 million views and seemingly showcased Associate Professor of Chemistry Catharine Larsen being dismissive toward her students during CHEM 008A, Organic Chemistry.
For the second year in a row, UCR was ranked No. 1 in social mobility by the U.S. News and World Report. Each year, the U.S. News and World Report publishes a list of college rankings within the United States. For the year 2021, UCR once again placed first as a top performer in the category of social mobility.
The 2020 presidential race between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden was the first time many UCR students were eligible to vote in a presidential election. UCR organizations and departments, such as the Civic Engagement Coalition, Student Life, the School of Public Policy and CALPIRG, centered their programming on Election Day around educating the UCR community on how to make a plan to vote, answering questions students had and creating spaces where they could voice their concerns and worries in anticipation of the next president of the United States.
After a year-long search, UCR Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox appointed Elizabeth Watkins as provost and executive vice chancellor, effective May 1, 2021. Watkins previously served as the dean of the graduate division, vice chancellor of student academic affairs and as a professor in the Department of Anthropology, Department of History and the Department of Social Medicine at UC San Francisco.
In the interest of protecting front-line healthcare employees, UCR’s Student Health Services received a 100-dose shipment of the Moderna vaccine via Riverside County. Administration of the vaccine began on Wednesday, Jan. 6.
Aram Ayra, a UCR alumni from the class of 2018 and former ASUCR president, ran for Riverside City Council Ward 2. As a political science student at UCR, Ayra rose from being a CHASS senator to ASUCR president, addressing matters of oversight on police officers, sexual harassment and helping to facilitate communication between UCR and the city of Riverside. Ayra’s platform, a grassroots funded campaign with no corporate or pact donations, runs on the message “reform, rebuild, and reinvest.” If elected, his immediate action will be to tackle the COVID-19 crisis.
On Friday, Feb. 19, Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox sent a campus wide email in which he condemned a slew of violent and racist attacks against Asians, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders specifically in the Bay Area and across the country. In the statement, Wilcox stated “We unequivocally condemn the recent violent and racist attacks in the Bay Area and nationally against Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders.”
On Tuesday, Feb. 9, the UCR Commencement Task Force, composed of student representatives from ASUCR, Diversity Council and GSA, as well as faculty, staff and administrators, confirmed that the spring 2021 graduation will take place virtually. The final decision was made in the interest of preserving the health and safety of the UCR community.
In February, The Highlander broke the news that UCR lost its federal designation as a Hispanic Serving institution due to a filing error by campus administration, resulting in the potential loss of millions in CARES funding. In 2008, UCR became the first federally designated Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) in the UC system. The streak was lost at the beginning of 2020 after a filing omission occurred under UCR’s Office of Planning, Budget and Administration that caused them to miss the filing deadline for 2020. As a result, UCR was potentially barred from receiving millions of dollars in CARES Act funding and federal grants meant to support and expand educational opportunities for Hispanic and other low-income students.
In a campus wide email sent on March 22, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Brian Haynes Haynes announced the March 29 reopening of the SRC with new safety guidelines to ensure a safe transition back to in person operations. With the reopening, the SRC was open to UCR students only and the tennis, swimming pool and SRC South Fitness Center were available to use at 10% capacity. SRC North, multipurpose rooms and basketball courts remained closed.
In March, Interim Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Thomas M Smith announced an instructional plan for fall that aimed for a return to primarily in-person instruction in fall 2021 and allows for adjustments to be made in the coming months as new information arrives, uncertainty is resolved, and new guidance is issued.
In April, UCR announced that it will host in-person commencement activities for the graduating classes of 2020 and 2021. From Saturday, June 12 through Monday, June 14, graduates would be able to sign up for blocks of time to walk across a stage individually as their name is read and have their photo taken on stage in academic regalia. They announced that no guests will be permitted inside or around either facility and students will follow CDC Guidelines by wearing face coverings and maintaining social distance.
On May 7, Chancellor Wilcox announced that graduates would be permitted to bring no more than two guests to their in-person commencement ceremony.
On Monday, May 17, ASUCR released a statement affirming their support for Palestinian students, faculty and staff at UCR in addition to all those affected by the violence taking place in Gaza as a result of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian unrest. The statement received over 300 comments from students, alumni and others showing appreciation for ASUCR taking a stand and acknowledging the conflict.