Raleigh, N.C. — Lawmakers are considering the possibility of eliminating one or two campuses in the University of North Carolina system, a top Senate budget-writer said Thursday.
Gov. Pat McCrory called for a $135 million cut in funding for the UNC system in the 2013-14 budget proposal he rolled out on Wednesday.
As lawmakers began reviewing the spending plan Thursday, Sen. Pete Brunstetter, R-Forsyth, co-chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he and his colleagues are more concerned about how money for higher education is spent than the actual size of the appropriation.
Lawmakers want to trim duplicative programs across UNC campuses, which Brunstetter said could reduce the overall system's footprint.
"I think our members definitely envision that there could be some consolidation between campuses, and we might need to go from 16 down to 15, 14, something like that," he said.
The university campuses in the system include UNC-Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University, North Carolina Central University, Fayetteville State University, East Carolina University, UNC-Greensboro, North Carolina A&T State University, Winston-Salem State University, the UNC School of the Arts, UNC-Charlotte, UNC-Wilmington, UNC-Pembroke, Elizabeth City State University, Appalachian State University, UNC-Asheville and Western Carolina University.
Brunstetter didn't elaborate on which campuses might close.
UNC President Tom Ross expressed concern Wednesday at the size of the proposed cut, which comes after $400 million in cuts in recent years. The consolidation proposal appeared to catch system administrators off guard, and Ross issued a statement that didn't directly address the issue.
"The university system remains committed to operating more efficiently and to doing its part to ensure North Carolina’s economic competitiveness and high quality of life," Ross said, calling UNC campuses "some of the state's most valuable assets."
"We recognize that we must do more with less and remain accountable to state taxpayers and policymakers," he said. "As outlined in our new strategic plan, we are taking steps to further streamline operations, improve instructional productivity and quality and refine and focus academic missions to meet current and future state needs."
Raeann George, a senior at N.C. State, said she is more concerned with steep tuition increases for out-of-state students that McCrory suggested to make up for the decrease in funding.
"It's a little troublesome," George, who is from Missouri, said the idea to raise tuition by up to 12.6 percent.
"If it's going to be even more expensive to come out here, it's just going to make it more difficult," she said. "I feel like people who might be thinking about applying from out of state might not want to."
Members of the Legislative Black Caucus railed against UNC cutbacks, as well as legislative elections that will fill the system's Board of Governors with Republican appointees.
"That's going to hurt the quality of education, the quality of teaching, the quality of research, the quality of everything that's in these institutions," Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, said of continued funding cuts.
Republicans argue, however, that they value the state's universities – only with a new view on value.
"I do think you're going to see a good, hard, honest look at the way the university conducts its business, the way resources are allocated and the way money is spent," Brunstetter said.