The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday December 1st

UNC Peeps Must Unite To Fight Cuts

I only wish I were talking about the dynamic music group that spawned such hits as "Money for Nothing" (I Want My MTV) and "Walk of Life."

Late last week, the legislature's Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Education (read: Raleigh hooligans) gave the word that our fine institution would need to do a little belt tightening in the name of budget cuts to the ugly tune of $25 million -- quite a hefty price from our lawmakers who have long promised to prioritize higher education.

I'm going to tell you why you should give a damn.

The said cut could result in higher tuition, less quality professors, more barbecue-eating TAs, layoffs and salary cuts.

A bad scene indeed, and one that couldn't come at a worse time. The University was just getting back on stable ground. In August 1999, the community was reeling from the death of Chancellor Michael Hooker. The administrative ranks were shaky. In place was an interim leader who could only steer the flagship for so long. Provost Dick Richardson was recovering from a heart attack and set to retire in a year. The vice chancellor for finance made plans to leave the post. The schools of law and nursing were welcoming new deans. The bond package had stagnated in the legislature, and a $6.8 million budget shortfall added to the woes.

In the meantime, higher-ups were trying to implement campus-changing initiatives such as the Master Plan and the Carolina Computing Initiative, which had only existed on paper but were now becoming realities.

We were on the road to recovery with the Big Meese securely in place. The bond passed in November, and Student Union construction, Master Plan blueprints and the computer initiative were well under way. With a cut of $25 million, UNC won't just have to tighten its belt -- it'll have to lose the belt altogether.

And there's a lot at stake. Our honchos are already spooked. Meese and UNC-system President Molly Broad are surprised and scared and a little pissed. Faculty Council Chairwoman Sue Estroff is worried that our professors already are packing their bags and potential faculty are writing UNC off.

Students are caught in the middle. And I'm worried our voices will not be enough. But with the big decision-makers in North Carolina, money speaks louder than words. And that's where the Meese comes in.

He needs to start tapping alumni for their cash and their influence. Upcoming meetings with the UNC Board of Visitors and the Parents Council are a good start. Meese needs to continue to follow in the footsteps of Hooker, who once embarked on a 100-county tour of North Carolina to build state support for the UNC system. Hooker made it personal and told residents why they should care.

Big names like Dean Smith and Bill Friday also need to step up to the plate and put the heat on -- so should anybody else whose name is on a UNC building.

The legislature's timing is perfect and not accidental. School's almost out. Exams are coming up. But that should not deter students or students leaders from mobilizing to fight this. A UNC-Chapel Hill effort will not cut it. Students from all system schools need to get in the mix.

Because plenty is hanging in the balance.

If lawmakers get their way, grumpy TAs will teach your classes, not quality professors. That course you wanted to take might magically disappear from the class directory. If your teachers aren't laid off, they might go searching for greener pastures where their salaries aren't sliced. The great minds poised to lecture in our classrooms could easily turn their backs.

All this can be yours -- if you can afford the raised tuition.

UNC has long been heralded as a university for the people. Now the people need to fight this one together.

If we yell loud enough, they just might hear us.

Columnist Ashley Stephenson can be reached at ashley21@email.unc.edu.

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