Trustees Cut DEI Budgets

The UNC Board of Trustees voted May 13 during a special meeting to reallocate $2.3 million in funding for diversity, equity and inclusion programs to public safety. The board also approved an audit of the athletics department, which some members say is on a trajectory to have a deficit of more than $100 million in the next few years.

Dave Boliek Jr. ’90, chairman of the board’s budget, finance and infrastructure committee, made the motion to “peel out the $2.3 million” for DEI efforts and reallocate the money to public safety. “I have stated before and I’ll state it again, I think DEI is divisive,” he said. “I don’t think that it’s productive. I don’t think it gives a return on investment to taxpayers and to the institution itself. I think we have an opportunity to lead on this, to get out ahead on this with the Board of Governors’ pending policy change.”

At its April meeting, the UNC Board of Governors voted to approve a rewrite of the UNC System’s DEI policy. The Board of Governors is scheduled to meet next week and is expected to pass the new policy, which will likely lead to defunding most diversity positions and programs at the system’s 17 schools. Many say, however, the new policy will not eliminate DEI all together.

Citing recent protests on campus over the Israeli-Palestinian war, board member Marty Kotis ’91 said UNC police lack the necessary resources to keep the campus safe. “When you destroy property or you take down the U.S. flag and you have to put up gates around it that cost money, or deploy officers to do that, North Carolinians are watching this and they are not happy,” Kotis said. “And I think it’s imperative that we have proper resources for our law enforcement to protect the campus, and that means our property, and that means our flag as well.”

After a group of protesters were removed from campus, with some arrested, on the morning of April 30, some protesters returned and replaced the American flag on the pole in the center of Polk Place with a Palestinian flag. University officials later restored the American flag and erected high fences around the pole.

Kotis said campus police need funds for mobile security forces, a live response center and a deputy chief. He also said the board should consider allocating money to staff members who “are not paid well, … including adjuncts or facilities workers or housekeepers.”

The vote to defund DEI programs was part of a $4.3 billion budget that must be approved by the Board of Governors. Neither Boliek nor Board of Trustees Chair John Preyer ’90 responded after the meeting to an email asking for comment.

It’s not clear exactly how many University positions will be eliminated or possibly reassigned. Kotis has said the University has about 37 positions that involve diversity efforts.

Trustee Ralph Meekins ’83 said he’s disappointed the public may perceive the board’s decision as an indication “that UNC wants to completely demolish DEI programs,” and he “doesn’t believe the board should go in that direction.”

Meekins said the future of diversity initiatives now rests with Interim Chancellor Lee Roberts. “I pray and hope he does what is right,” Meekins said. “We’re advisory members on a board, and I believe that Roberts was put in this position for a reason, and I further believe that he will continue UNC’s efforts to create an equitable, fair and diverse campus while not violating or offending any specific mandates from the Board of Governors.”

The board also discussed the $135 million athletics department budget and an estimated budget shortfall in the next few years of more than $100 million. Trustee Jennifer Halsey Evans ’94 complained about a lack of response from the athletics department to discuss the budget in detail. She said trustees have wanted to talk with athletics officials since January and she was “really excited and happy to hear” that Nate Knuffman, vice chancellor for finance and operations and chief financial officer, was working with UNC Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham’s team “to put forth projections.”

Trustees and athletics officials didn’t meet in January or in March to discuss the budget, Evans said. “We deserve the right to ask questions,” she said. The board plans to continue trying to meet with department officials.

“If … you look at that budget and the way it stands right now just on athletics, it doesn’t look good,” Boliek said during the special meeting, adding the University’s alumni, fans and supporters have big expectations of Carolina’s athletic programs. “They expect us to be competitive at the highest level, and I don’t believe this budget has a long-term viability in terms of athletics to maintain that level of success.”

Meekins told the Review he disagrees with some members’ characterization of Cunningham’s unwillingness to meet with the board to discuss the budget, labeling some comments by his colleagues as “uncalled for.”

Meekins said Cunningham formed a special committee with the Rams Club, former chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and other athletics personnel to help Carolina’s athletics department navigate through the pandemic, which he said resulted in some short-term deficits that would need to be addressed.

Athletics communications officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Laurie D. Willis ’86

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