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UNC's Ross Says 'Unnecessary Duplication' Focus Of System Review

Thomas Ross align=left

North Carolina lawmakers are dealing with an estimated budget shortfall of $3.7 billion. Higher education is one of many areas expected to be hit with cuts. To counter this, 13 of 17 schools in the UNC system are seeking a 6.5 percent tuition hike - the maximum increase allowed. WFAE's Marshall Terry talks to UNC System President Tom Ross about the budget challenges to higher education. Marshall Terry: Mr. Ross, I understand that you're asking for a review of the system; you're looking for duplication. What do you mean by that? Tom Ross: Well I think the word I'd use is unnecessary duplication, because I think we certainly anticipate finding some duplication across campuses. I hope we do because I certainly hope that we are offering core educational courses that in all of our campuses, in English, economics, history, and so forth, so there's going to be duplication. But what we want to look for is unnecessary duplication; that is places where there is there's a duplication of programs, and perhaps that may lead to the elimination of some programs, or it may also lead to better collaboration among programs that could end up being more efficient and more effective. And so we hope that we'll be able to save some dollars, and I should point out that looking for unnecessary duplication is not a short-term fix for our current budget crisis. This is really more of a long-term analysis that will help us plan for the universities' futures Marshall Terry: Does age play a role? What about new versus old? A school like UNC Charlotte is a lot newer than, say, NC State or (UNC) Chapel Hill. Does that make a difference where cuts may happen? Tom Ross: I would say no it doesn't, because again I think we're ? the University of North Carolina in Charlotte is one of our fastest growing institutions. It has a very large place now, well over 20,000 students on that campus and is projected to grow more than almost any of our other campuses. It's serving one of the two largest urban areas in North Carolina. So I think the location is not the driver; in fact, in some ways it's the only game in town. I find that even more important. But I think that it's not going to be location that drives this. Marshall Terry: Do you hear from nervous people on some of those newer campuses, like UNC Charlotte? Maybe that their school hasn't been around long; it doesn't have the history; it doesn't have the prestige of a Chapel Hill? They may be thinking themselves, you know, "My school's prime for cuts, whereas Chapel Hill is not". They may think it's not fair. Do you hear from any nervous people, students, faculty members? Tom Ross: I mean the answer is yes. I mean, I think we have a lot of people across our system, no matter whether they're in Charlotte, or Appalachian, or Western Carolina, or Fayetteville State, or wherever they might be. They're nervous right now because I think they know that we're going to be receiving cuts from the Legislature and that we are, as a result, probably going to have to reduce our workforce. And so they're nervous for sure, and I think that's true whether you're worried about your program or just simply worried about your job. And so I'm hoping that we can minimize the job loss and take the cuts in the way that is most effective in terms of our ability to operate, you know, the excellent universities that we have today. Marshall Terry: I believe your predecessor, Erskine Bowles, last fall mentioned something about the possibility of closing a campus. Is that a possibility? Tom Ross: I think he said that if cuts were to reach the 20 percent level then that's certainly something we would have to look at. And listen, you know, we have to look at every option. I don't think there's any question about that. I very much hope we don't have to go down that road, because as I said earlier, each of our campuses has a constituency. Each of our campuses serves a role in their community and beyond, and each of our campuses is an economic force for that part of the state. They're part of the workforce; they're part of the economic engine for that community, both through their outreach resources and their resources. So I think the university branches, all of them, have a very important role and do play an important role right now in North Carolina. If we're going to grow and if we're going to continue to have what we need in terms of opportunity for additional people to get higher education. We need every classroom seat we can get.