"Our supply budget was drained," said David Lowery, chairman of the political science department in 1991. "We had to charge students 25 cents for their finals. We didn't have pens and paper."
Despite the fact that the state likely will face a shortfall of more than $1 billion for the 2002-03 fiscal year -- the largest state budget deficit since 1991 -- UNC-CH officials are optimistic that the measures taken to fix the problem will be less extreme than the ones taken a decade ago.
A national recession in 1991 contributed to a state budget shortfall of more than $1 billion. The state legislature asked the UNC system to trim $59.2 million from its 1991-92 operating budget to help alleviate the crisis.
"The budget cuts were terribly depressing," Lowery said. "It was tough living with the daily cheapness and meanness of budget constraints."
C.D. Spangler, who served as UNC-system president from 1986-97, said system officials tried to work with the legislature to ease the impact of the cuts, as well as to defend the system's financial credibility. "We did not welcome the thought that we could reduce financial activity without negatively impacting the university," he said.
Legislators also turned to students to help cushion the impact of budget cuts.
During the summer of 1991, the N.C. General Assembly approved a 20 percent systemwide tuition increase.
UNC-CH officials eliminated 256 classes for the spring 1992 semester to avoid cutting faculty positions.
Paul Hardin, UNC-CH's chancellor from 1988-95, said the University did not lay off any faculty members. Instead, a focus was placed on eliminating vacant administrative positions.
UNC-CH's budget crisis also curtailed some University services.
Administrators instituted a hiring freeze in early 1991 immediately after Gov. Jim Martin's office predicted the budget shortfall. The freeze forced the UNC-CH Visitors' Center to close for two weeks after the director resigned and a replacement could not be hired.
The Greenlaw Hall computer lab also was shut down for the 1991-92 academic year, and the School of Social Work had to halt construction of new facilities.
Officials contemplated closing the Ackland Art Museum because no funds were available to hire security guards.
Hardin said the difficulty in dealing with the cuts in 1991 arose from the inflexibility of the UNC system's financial micromanagement programs.
If departments exhausted their supply budgets, for example, administrators were not allowed to transfer surplus funds from their maintenance budgets.
UNC-system officials convinced the legislature to revise the financial management system in summer 1991 to provide greater management flexibility for UNC-system administrators. "Now, if the cut is not too severe, we can move funds around easier," Hardin said.
Lowery said 2002's budget crisis is not as dire as the situation in 1991, adding that since in 1991 the faculty worked in fear of layoffs and dealt with increasing workloads, there is less anxiety related to job security this time. "The University has more autonomy than it did the last time," he said. "The older faculty members have been through this before, and we know we'll come out OK eventually."
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