The Price of Excellence

From the University Report (published by the GAA 1970-94)

As the University’s 195th Commencement approaches, we face troubling news which presents challenges to us all.

I try to attend all of the public meetings of the University’s Board of Trustees. The most disturbing news I have ever learned at such a meeting came on February 17th when it was confirmed that the University’s competitive standing as reflected in faculty salaries had ‘dropped significantly in recent years. As the chart below shows, our University no longer stands at the top nationally, or in the region, in the level of compensation we provide to our faculty.

Most of our readers understand the relationship between faculty salaries and the academic quality of the institution. There is no quicker way to precipitate an overall decline in what has been our long-standing high national ranking than failing to compensate our faculty. While some of our faculty may choose to stay in Chapel Hill because of the beauty of the campus, the quality of our student body, the very special nature of the town of Chapel Hill, or the rich tradition and heritage of the University, not all will, and it will be difficult for us to recruit a distinguished faculty to replace departing and retiring professors if we cannot be competitive nationally in faculty compensation.

Last September’s University Report published the rankings of the top 30 research institutions in the country. Below, you will find the rankings at that time and you will be able to compare how other institutions in that ranking are faring in faculty salaries in contrast to our own. While others also may have slipped, it appears abundantly clear that none has slipped as far as our own.
Some of our readers might ask why. My own belief is that, while there may be other reasons, two are particularly over-riding. The first is that the 1981 General Assembly chose to freeze all salaries of state employees, and in the case of our University, went so far as to prohibit the University using any non-state monies that were available to increase faculty salaries. This meant that our faculty, no matter how hard they worked or how many grants and contracts they brought to North Carolina, could not receive any additional financial compensation. While the 1983 General Assembly removed the salary freeze and provided an overall five percent salary increase, this was below the national average for that year (six to seven percent) and did not reflect any effort to make up for the previous year and a half in which no increase was provided.

A second reason for North Carolina’s decline competitively, I believe, is the improved situation at other institutions in their development campaigns. Certainly the University of Texas at Austin is a prime example of an institution that is significantly endowed (now well over two billion dollars) and has not been reluctant to use this endowment to recruit what it hopes to be a superior faculty.

The chart below shows the size of the endowment of each of the respective institutions.

Top need: salaries

I believe there are several important messages for each of us in this rather disturbing news. First, it is imperative that whatever salary increases are made available for other state employees, University employees receive at least the same amount of increase. (It would be preferable that the state’s two public research institutions – our own and NCSU – receive supplemental salary funds. California already does this.) Indeed, the Trustees at the suggestion of Chancellor Fordham at their February meeting passed a resolution calling upon University President William Friday and the Board of Governors to urge that the Legislature re-dress this problem “at the earliest opportunity.”   President Friday and the Board of Governors have made salary adjustments the number one priority for the entire University system.  I urge all of our alumni as they talk with their legislative candidates to impress upon them the importance of their support for this much needed funding and the special competition problem of our research institutions (UNC-CH and NCSU).

Accelerating development

Secondly, it seems to me that while we must do all that we can to encourage the Legislature to provide us with additional state funding, we must face the reality that we are only 39 percent state assisted.  Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to continue our recent accelerated development efforts.  While I, of course, believe it is the first obligation of all readers to continue as members of the General Alumni Association.  I would hope that our members also would continue to be generous n their support of the academic needs of the University.  During the last year nearly 70 percent of all donors to the University were members of the General Alumni Association.  In soliciting much needed funds from our friends and alumni, the University should be explicit in defining its most urgent needs.  But the University should always respect that our alumni and friends may prefer to give their money according to their own priorities.  (In addition, the University must continue to aggressively monitor the performance of its investment fund managers to assure that the monies received are invested for the maximum return.  Indeed, last year the University ranked third in the nation among Universities in the return on investments.)

Attracting business

Third, the University needs to continue its search for creative partnerships with private industry in order to meet its on-going needs.  It is my belief, along with Vice Chancellor for Business and Finance Farris Womack and others, that any substantial growth in the University’s overall revenue in the years ahead will come not only from the state but from our increasing partnerships with private industry. Without jeopardizing any of our high academic principles, we must forge new partnerships to provide for the ongoing needs of our University.  In so doing, we will also be meting an ever increasing public service role and continuing our relevance to the people of North Carolina and the region.

In short, we are a venerable institution.  Indeed over half the buildings on campus are over 40 years old.  As we move to the latter part of the 20th century and look forward to the 21st century, we must be certain that there is a sound physical plant in which one of the finest faculties anywhere in the country can teach some of the most outstanding students ever assembled.  None of us paid the true cost of our education, and so each of us can and should do more personally.  More important, we can urge our legislators in North Carolina and our Congressional leaders to continue the much needed state and federal support.  The University administration should continue to be aggressive in its efforts to seek private financial support, seek more partnerships with private industry, and manage its resources with great care.

As 3,500 new alumni receive their diplomas on what we hope will be a bright sunny day in Kenan Stadium, let us do all we can to assure that future generations will continue to receive the same quality in education of which each of us is so proud.

Yours at Carolina,

Doug signature





Douglas S. Dibbert ’70

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