Gov. Mike Easley has called for cuts in all state government departments, including the UNC system, in order to eliminate a more than $1 billion state budget deficit for the 2002-03 fiscal year.
Easley sent a letter to UNC-system chancellors March 21 asking them to recommend cuts that could be made to the budgets of their respective universities that would not impact instruction.
"Protecting the classroom has been, and will continue to be, my strongest imperative as I assemble budget recommendations. I ask that you keep that in mind as you make recommendations to me," Easley stated in the letter. "I ask that you work diligently to identify savings in administration, travel, personnel utilization and other areas to help protect the classroom."
UNC-CH administrators submitted a list of proposed cuts to UNC-system President Molly Broad on April 1, and she in turn submitted it to the state budget office on April 3.
But on April 8, State Budget Director David McCoy returned that proposal with a letter informing UNC-CH Chancellor James Moeser that his proposed budget cuts did not fall within the guidelines Easley set to protect classroom instruction.
"Your office submitted a list of cuts that would definitely adversely affect the classroom," McCoy wrote in the letter. "The governor will not support this recommendation, as it directly contradicts the state's priorities."
Amanda Wherry, assistant press secretary for Easley, said UNC-CH is the only one of the 16 UNC-system schools to have its budget proposal returned for failing to meet the Easley's criteria for the proposed cuts.
She would not comment on whether the rejection of the budget cut proposal might adversely affect the University's funding next year.
UNC-CH Provost Robert Shelton said he does not think this will negatively impact the University. "I don't think there's an indication of punitive matters here," he said.
In his letter, McCoy suggested that University officials eliminate 200 vacant positions, including 80 non-faculty positions, in a revised budget cut proposal.
Shelton said Moeser explained in an April 11 reply to McCoy's letter why the University chose not to cut a large portion of the vacant positions in its original proposal. He said the funding the state gives the University for these vacant positions is often used to fund salaries for graduate teaching assistants and visiting faculty members and that eliminating these positions, as McCoy suggested, would harm instruction.
Instead, Shelton said the University's original budget cut proposal included a combination of eliminating some of these position and cuts in the University's operating budget, which includes items such as paper and other supplies.
Shelton said he would not characterize the exchange of letters as indicative of a disagreement between University officials and state budget writers. "I view it as an opportunity to explain in detail how our budget works," he said. "Basically what we explained is that we agree completely that instruction is the highest priority for protection."
Shelton said the University's budget proposal is likely the only one rejected because budget officials did not understand why other system schools were able to make much deeper cuts in their budgets without impacting instruction while UNC was not able to.
"The ability to do that is very limited because of the cumulative effect over the last two years," he said. "I think if (budget writers) look at our track record, they will see that Chapel Hill is well-managed and has a high level of instruction. So when they finally decide what level of cuts the University has to sustain, they will give us maximum flexibility so we can protect instruction."
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