Trustees concerned UNC taking more than fair share of cuts

May. 21, 2014 @ 05:43 PM

On Wednesday, Barbara Entwisle got her first look at Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed budget cuts for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Entwisle, a Kenan Distinguished Professor and UNC’s vice chancellor for research, grew especially concerned about the $5.8 million McCrory’s proposal slashes from Chapel Hill’s centers and institutes.
“You can’t just cut them and nothing happens,” she told the UNC Board of Trustees finance and infrastructure committee. “This will have consequences for research.”
As an example, the UNC Nutrition Research Institute in Kannapolis would take a 20 percent hit to research and building operations. It remains to be seen, Entwisle said, how that institute could continue to function.
She oversees 15 research centers and institutes for the university and they bring in a reported $160 million annually in research funding. Those programs yield about $7.78 for every state dollar invested, she said.
That’s the second-largest funding generator after the School of Medicine, she said.
Kevin Seitz, interim vice chancellor for finance and administration, acknowledged during his budget presentation that the numbers aren’t final yet and could change during the short legislative session in Raleigh.
“One thing I can guarantee is these numbers are going to change,” Seitz said.
Statewide, McCrory’s proposal cuts $13.1 million from centers and institutes within the UNC System. Chapel Hill would take 44 percent of that hit.
Members of the finance and infrastructure committee expressed frustration about how UNC-Chapel Hill – a school that accounts for 20 percent of the entire system budget – seems to absorb more than its fair share of reductions.
Bottom line, said Steve Lerner, the committee chair: “We count for 20 percent of the budget and we’re taking one and a half times our fair share.”
The tuition rate for non-resident full scholarships, as an example, would lead to a $9.3 million cut statewide, with $7.1 million – or 77 percent – coming specifically from Chapel Hill.
The proposal calls for a statewide cut in utility spending by $9.1 million, with 27 percent of it coming from Chapel Hill at $2.4 million.
“The electricity is the electricity. The water is the water,” said trustee Don Curtis. “Do you limit commode flushes?”
Lerner said the logic in the proposed budget seems to punish efficiency and innovation.
“If you become more efficient, you’re losing that money that you might get to do other things,” he said. If efficiencies lead to reduced budgets, there’s no incentive to improve, he said. “That just strikes the chair as promoting bureaucratic thinking.”
Trustees on Wednesday also got a presentation on the results of a $280,000 partnership between the UNC athletics department and the Disney Institute for developing a new internal business culture.
Bubba Cunningham, UNC’s athletic director, said that their strategic plan – called Carolina Leads – “has been an incredible resource for us.”
The Disney Institute has worked with Siemens, the U.S. Air Force, the Super Bowl, the NBA All-Star Game and now has branched out to work with college athletic departments such as UNC.
“What they share is common sense,” said Rick Steinbacher, the senior associate athletic director for external communications. “There’s no pixie dust, no magic wand.”
The department established a mission – to educate and inspire through athletics – and laid out values of responsibility, innovation, service and excellence. The strategic plan also outlines priorities that include making sure that UNC achieves a top three academic and athletic finish in the conference and a top 10 finish nationally in each sport.
They plan to roll out what they’ve learned this fall, Steinbacher said.
“We’re at one of the greatest universities in the world,” Cunningham told the committee. “And every one of us wants to get better.”

Follow on Twitter at @HS_WesPlatt. Connect on Facebook at