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Grim UNC System budget picture painted
« on: April 08, 2011, 04:23:13 PM »
April 8, 2011

Grim UNC System budget picture painted

By Gregory Childress
The Herald-Sun

CHAPEL HILL -- There's still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the state budget and its impact on the UNC System.

But members of the UNC Board of Governors got a look Thursday at the effect a 15 percent budget reduction would have on the state's 16-campus university system.

For one thing, it would lead to the elimination of 3,200 positions, some of them filled, some not.

And of those 3,200 positions, roughly 1,500 would be faculty positions, which have been mostly protected during the tough economic times of the past few years.

Worse still is the damage the budget cuts would do to course offerings.

Charles Perusse, the university system's new vice president for finance, said a budget cut of 15 percent would lead to the elimination of 9,000 course sections and 240,000 class seats.

For students, that would mean difficulty getting needed classes to graduate on schedule.

"UNC Charlotte said they anticipate the average time to graduate under the 15 percent scenario, because of the class situation and others, would increase by a full semester," Perusse said.

The 15 percent option was drawn up after rumblings that the Republican-led General Assembly might require a higher reduction than the 10 percent for which the system was preparing.

"Obviously, we started to hear some numbers that concern us, and we've heard greater than 10 percent reductions being discussed for the university system, so we went out about a month ago and surveyed all of the campuses and asked them for more detail on what a 15 percent reduction option would look like across the system," Perusse said.

While no consensus has yet been reached on how deep the cuts will be, Board of Governor Chairwoman Hannah Gage said the one thing everyone agrees on is that the "future of higher education in North Carolina is at a critical fork in the road."

"What happens over the next few weeks will have significant consequences on the state's future," Gage said. "So, the stakes are high. This is an important discussion, and the consequences will be profound for North Carolina."

At Winston Salem State University (WSSU), a 15 percent budget reduction would mean eliminating 9 percent of its faculty, roughly 39 positions.

And at N.C. State, six fire protection and campus police department positions would be eliminated.

Closer to home, UNC would lose positions in the Admissions Office. As a result, the office would close two days a week from Nov. 1 through March 31 to review applications.

In Durham, N.C. Central University (NCCU) would have to eliminate 12 positions in finance, human resources and information technology services.

NCCU Chancellor Charlie Nelms said the consequences of such a large budget reduction would have a profound impact on students.

"If the cuts actually materialize, it's going to have a significant impact on access, their success once they get there, and it's going to further stymie our efforts to retain students," Nelms said.

Board members agreed that the UNC System must continue to remind state legislators about how important the university system is to the economic and social well-being of the state.

"The university is very important to our ability to attract businesses, but it's also important to businesses that are here," UNC System President Tom Ross said. "We want to make sure we remind everyone that the university is critical to our economic recovery and to our economic future and to our competitiveness as a state."

Board member Charlie Mercer said it is important that the state continues to honor the "social compact" between the people of North Carolina and the UNC System.

He said there is probably not a single town in the state that has not benefited from the university either through its research, community service or a graduate who returned to their hometown and made major contributions.

"For more than 200 years, we have had a special relationship between the people and the University of North Carolina," Mercer said. "It has served us well. The people of North Carolina understand the importance of an educated citizenry and how our entire society benefits."

The General Assembly is wrestling with a budget shortfall of $3.7 billion. Fifty-seven percent of its $19.9 billion of its general operating budget goes toward education, including $2.7 billion for the UNC System.

The state House is expected to approve its budget by April 21 and the state Senate by mid-May. A final budget is scheduled for adoption by June 1.

Thursday's meeting including an update from State Treasurer Janet Cowell. She warned the board about the state's dwindling Escheats Fund that is used to fund scholarships.



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