Colvard Building named for University’s first chancellor

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Colvard Building opened in 1979, and its steel-frame and curtain-wall construction and many energy-saving features were considered progressive for its time. Harry Wolf of Wolf Associates designed the structure, and he won the 1980 South Atlantic Regional AIA Honor Award for his work. Among the energy-saving features Wolf utilized were vermiculite insulate roofing, insulated walls and a heat reclaimer. Also, the center arcade was designed for the horizontal and vertical movement of students in a space that did not need to be heated or cooled.

While many of Wolf’s design techniques are common today, 30 years ago they were considered forward-thinking. It is appropriate such a building honors Dean Wallace Colvard, UNC Charlotte’s first permanent chancellor, a man considered ahead of his time in many respects.

dean colvardBorn in 1913, Colvard was raised in the mountains of western North Carolina in Ashe County. President and salutatorian of his high school class, Colvard was the first member of his family to attend an institution of higher learning. He started at Berea College in 1931, where he earned a scholarship. He also met Martha Lampkin; they would wed in the college’s Danforth Chapel in 1939.

After completing his undergraduate degree, Colvard earned a master’s degree in endocrinology from the University of Missouri and a doctorate in agricultural economics from Purdue University. He also served as superintendent of North Carolina Agricultural Research Stations from 1938-46. In 1948, Colvard was hired to run North Carolina State University’s animal science program. Five years later, he became the dean of agriculture, a post he held until 1960, when he became president of Mississippi State University (MSU), where he unintentionally became part of college sports history. MSU had won three straight Southeastern Conference championships, but the institution declined to participate in the NCAA tournament rather than integrate, even briefly, on the basketball court. In 1963, Colvard defied a court injunction and allowed the MSU basketball team to compete in the tournament against a team with African-American players.

Colvard returned to his native state in 1966 after being named chancellor of UNC Charlotte. He embraced the challenge of turning a pioneering junior college into a university that had become the fourth member of the consolidated UNC system. As chancellor, he secured regional and national accreditation for University programs, helped create the University Research Park, added graduate programs, expanded the campus and oversaw the growth of the student body from 1,700 to 8,705 students.

He retired Dec. 31, 1978, but Colvard did not leave education behind. He helped build two other institutions: the School of Science and Mathematics at Durham and the hands-on museum Discovery Place. He died June 28, 2007.

Atkins Library Special Collections contributed to this article.