Education

Thorp wants to protect academics as UNC-Chapel Hill cuts

Posted January 26, 2011 5:35 p.m. EST
Updated January 27, 2011 5:46 p.m. EST

— The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is already making budget cuts for the next fiscal year.

Chancellor Holden Thorp said Thursday that the 5 percent cut he has ordered for 2011-12 will cost the university $26 million.

Thorp added that deeper cuts, the 10 and 15 percent options suggested by the governor and legislators attempting to balance the state budget, could "significantly erode" academics.

"I'm very proud of how far we've been able to go and protect the classroom, but it's going to be impossible to keep going without starting to significantly erode our ability to provide high-quality instruction," he said. "Even the 5 percent we are pulling back is going to affect our ability to offer class sections.”

Students said the cutbacks have made it more difficult to get into popular classes.

"There are a lot of sections being canceled," sophomore Chris Ford said.

"Part of a good education is about being able to get into those small classes, being able to get into the classes that you want to take," junior Elise Stephenson said.

Thorp said he knows he's working in a new economic reality and wants to be proactive about making cuts before they are mandated.

"(We want) to show that we know the state is in a difficult situation and that the governor and the General Assembly have difficult choices," he said.

Still, as the belt tightens, Thorp said his top priority is protecting the academic offerings and reputation of UNC.

The university has absorbed at least $157 million in state cuts, mostly for administration and efficiency measures, since 2008, officials said.

"If we continue to have to make these cuts, then we are going to start compromising the quality of education that our students receive," he said.

He plans to press for any revenue from increases in tuition to remain on campus, rather than being transferred to the state's General Fund. The university has requested a 6.5 percent increase – the maximum allowed under state rules – for the 2011-12 school year.

Ford said he would be willing to pay a little more to help the school's budget situation.

"This is one of the best public educations in the country, and I definitely think increasing tuition a little bit is worth protecting that," he said.

Stephenson said, however, that recent tuition increases have caused two of her friends to transfer.

"It's definitely a tough thing because everyone here is obviously concerned about money," she said.

Thorp said the university must preserve its ability to offer need-based aid to qualified students, noting that 37 percent of the undergraduates require need-based aid.

North Carolina State University Chancellor Randy Woodson last week said his university might need to restructure and eliminate degree programs to deal with budget cuts, but Thorp said such moves wouldn't work in Chapel Hill. All 14 UNC-CH schools are needed, he said.

"We don't really see a need to reorganize that," Thorp said. "Those are schools that have been here for, in some cases, 200 years, and that's a structure that has served us well."