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State Budget Is Hurting; UNC's Likely Will, Too

Carolina administrators are bracing for fallout from a state budget deficit estimated at $2.4 billion to $3.7 billion for 2011-12. As the new legislative session opened in late January, officials agreed that the complete impact of the budget deficit on the University likely won’t be known until sometime next summer. But some comments to the UNC trustees might have been prescient: The provost, the chair of the faculty and the chief global education officer all used the word “pain.”

To prepare for cuts in state money, Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 already has decided to plan for a 5 percent cut in state funding, equivalent to $26 million, for the 2011-12 fiscal year. The cut, beginning July 1, will affect programs, operations and staffing. But UNC administrators have been told not to wait — they are to return 3.5 percent of their budgets to South Building by March 1 — because, Provost Bruce Carney said, the University must start realizing the savings from cuts now.

“We’re entering a domain where I’m beginning to get worried” about critical cuts in services, Carney said.

The state funding reductions could go much deeper. UNC System campuses have been  asked to consider cuts of up to 15 percent of their state funding, Thorp wrote in a Jan. 11 e-mail to the campus community. “I have every hope that our cuts will not reach that level,” Thorp wrote.

“We’ll try to shield teaching and research and protect our ability to provide need-based financial aid,” Thorp wrote. “Admittedly, however, that will be harder to do moving forward because of the cumulative effects of the cuts we’ve taken so far.”

In December, the Office of State Budget and Management asked state agencies to cut their spending of state funds by 2.5 percent, as well as to keep jobs vacant and reduce travel and training.

Although that December directive did not mention the state’s universities, then-UNC System President Erskine Bowles ’67 urged campuses to cut the 2.5 percent and implement a hiring freeze on some state-funded positions.

In a Jan. 3 e-mail to Carolina’s campus, Carney said the freeze would not affect faculty positions, student positions, post-doctoral scholars, medical residents and campus police and security officers. Other positions can be exempt from the freeze if they are deemed essential to University operations, but they must receive special approval.

But that could change. Carney told the trustees’ University Affairs Committee on Wednesday that deeper cuts probably would lead to fewer credit hour offerings. “I’m very worried about much deeper cuts,” he said.

Carney said that for one thing, the state might not sanction an enrollment increase for next fall that would bring in additional tuition money.

There seems to be a consensus of concern among administrators that while budget cuts to this point have spared academic programs and significant numbers of jobs, those cannot be protected in deeper cuts. When trustees asked Faculty Chair McKay Coble about faculty morale, she said it was “not great but it’s not horrible.” The budget cuts, she said, “are scary because I think we’re now down to people.”

Department heads are trying to balance competing interests with increasingly limited state money.

“We’ve already endured cuts now for several years,” said Jean Folkerts, dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She already has limited faculty leaves, cut travel budgets and stalled renovation projects.

She said the upcoming 5 percent cut will have a more serious impact on students.

“This time, it will directly impact the teaching mission,” Folkerts said. “The electives just start to go away.”

In the journalism school, state money is used to cover salaries of staff, part-time faculty and full-time faculty. Cutting from any of the three types of employees will not be easy for Folkerts.

“If we cut more than 5 percent in the journalism school, students will not graduate on time,” she said. “Frankly, I don’t know what we’ll do.”

She said large cuts, such as the 10 percent Thorp developed a scenario for, would require even harder decisions for deans and department heads. In that case, she said she  probably would be forced to cut larger amounts from a single initiative or program rather than whittling away at the whole school’s budget.

“We’re cutting off this arm, otherwise the whole body will suffer,” she said.


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