Slashed Budget Seen As a Threat to Carolina's Core

Carolina has been fairly successful at protecting its heart — academic instruction — through three years of budget cutting. Those defenses are breaking down.

Though the Chapel Hill impact of a more than $400 million loss to the 17-campus UNC System in the new state budget isn’t yet known, the hit will be significantly greater than the 5 percent UNC went ahead and planned for in January.

Provost Bruce Carney said he expects students returning this fall to notice losses from the strict diet the University is on. It could be larger classes; fewer sections of some courses; and, if the ranks of graduate teaching assistants are diminished, the loss of elements of individual attention that students expect, such as discussion sections in large lecture courses.

“This campus can go on operating on less money, but I have reservations about whether we can give the students what they historically expect,” said Carney, UNC’s top academic officer.

“The permanent cut of almost 5 percent that we proactively took effective July 1 will only marginally ease the pain of this new round of reductions,” Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 wrote to the campus community on June 15. “These cuts will undoubtedly hurt our teaching mission because state appropriations primarily support undergraduate education. And we’ll see further cuts to administrative units that have already absorbed significant reductions to protect the classroom experience for our students.”

The 5 percent cut ordered in January will save Carolina about $26 million.

In mid-June, the N.C. General Assembly agreed to a $19.7 billion budget. Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoed it, largely because of concerns about cuts to secondary and higher education. The Legislature overrode the veto, and the UNC General Administration began poring over how to dole out the cuts among its 17 campuses.

Thorp used the figure 14 percent in his letter, but that is far from certain. Carney said the cuts would have to be disproportionate across the system because, while they will be severe at UNC, some universities are in even more dire straits.

“I will say it’s worse than the last two years put together,” he said.

The system is using the figure $407 million for the total reduction in state funding; Carney said Carolina has it at about $413 million.

The University does know some details — some good, some not. It expects to lose more than $5 million in funds for need-based aid to low-income students, money that will not come out of operations but, as Carney said, “It’s just how much less we’ll have to help our students.”

The campus will get full funding for the cost of its enrollment increase. It also dodged a threat to have its overhead receipts — millions of dollars in administrative funds that come with government research grants — taken by the state and distributed to multiple schools; UNC gets to keep all those monies.

As recently as last spring, South Building held out the possibility it would be able to levy a supplemental tuition increase to deal with the emergency. Thorp is on record saying that continuing to raise tuition would be preferable to having to make drastic cutbacks in academic areas. Already approved is a 6.5 percent increase effective this fall. But UNC System President Thomas Ross ’75 (JD) is against supplemental increases, such as the $750 hike approved for UNC last year.

Carney said he had gotten no indication of how the system will view tuition next year. In November, the UNC System Board of Governors passed a four-year tuition plan that included a revision that a campus can ask for an exemption if it has significant unfunded needs.

The impact on academics already has been felt from the 5 percent cut. The School of Nursing cut undergraduate enrollment 25 percent for this fall. The School of Education cut 30 to 35 slots from the 109 students it enrolled in the undergraduate elementary education program in 2010. The School of Social Work is closing distance master’s programs in Winston-Salem and Flat Rock, which will shut out 30 to 35 students a year in a state in which 28 of 100 counties have no master’s-level social workers. The Graduate School has decided on a 10 percent cut in first-year fellowships starting next fall.

Deeper reductions will be felt all over. Carney said they’d likely be noticeable soon in reduced grounds maintenance. Capital projects such as an expansion of the medical school, new buildings for psychology and the School of Information and Library Science, and planning for a new law school are on indefinite hold. And faculty retention remains a concern in the third year of no pay raises and as the financial picture improves for private schools that can raid UNC.

Carney said the decision had been made not to close any professional schools. He has asked deans to try not to reduce the number of credit hours taught; but that will depend on the number of adjunct faculty positions that have to be cut.

By July 1, the University will have absorbed at least $157 million in total state cuts since 2008. Those cuts have spared instructional programs for the most part.

The state is facing a budget deficit in the neighborhood of $2.4 billion. State appropriations and financial aid accounted for about 22 percent, or $542 million, of the University’s $2.4 billion operating budget in 2009-10. While the state’s portion of UNC’s monies has steadily declined — from 42.5 percent 25 years ago, to 30 percent a decade ago, to about 22 percent today — state money accounts for about 79 percent of the funding of the College of Arts and Sciences, the core academic structure for undergraduate students.

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