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Monday December 6th

Thorp prepares for budget cuts, "tough choices" from new state legislature

State funding may be limited

Chancellor Holden Thorp answers audience questions on UNC issues including innovation and budget cuts at the open house on Monday.
Buy Photos Chancellor Holden Thorp answers audience questions on UNC issues including innovation and budget cuts at the open house on Monday.

With the dust settling from last week’s historic election and the Republican takeover of the state legislature, University administrators are still holding their breath.

Chancellor Holden Thorp said administrators are unsure of how Republicans will form their leadership and craft the state budget, but that the University is preparing for significant cuts from the state — a move that could force the school to consider dramatically raising tuition to private-school levels or reducing services offered.

“We don’t know how UNC will do under the new General Assembly leadership or under the new president, or who the leaders of the House and Senate will be,” Thorp said in an open house Monday night. “It’ll be quite some time before the realities of this are worked out.”

In last week’s midterm election, Republicans took control of the N.C. General Assembly for the first time since 1898. Even before the election, University administrators had been told by the state government to prepare for up to $54 million in budget cuts for the upcoming fiscal year. Republicans have pledged not to raise taxes to meet the anticipated budget shortfall of more than $3 billion.

Other public state university systems have moved to a private funding model — deriving most revenue from tuition rather than state appropriations. Thorp said he isn’t sure if UNC will move in that direction, but he didn’t rule the option out.

“Every public university that’s in the same situation is thinking about that right now,” Thorp said.
“It’s too early to tell whether we would either be forced to do that or choose to do that, because we don’t know much about the political situation we’re in.”

UNC’s tuition and fees advisory committee will meet Thursday to provide Thorp with a tuition increase recommendation, which he said he expects will be 6.5 percent, the maximum allowed under the state cap.

“I could be wrong, but one prediction I’ll make is that the General Assembly will take awhile to get the budget done, because a lot of people who have never done the budget before will be doing it,” Thorp said.

“When we have the first open house of the 2011-12 school year, we might be on a continuation budget.”

Under a continuation budget, the state likely would continue to fund the University at current levels until a new budget is passed.

When asked what “tough choices” he will make, Thorp stared down at the podium.

“If you start talking about $54 million after all the cuts we’ve made … you start asking if there are things we’re doing that we need to get out of, or whether you need to continue to scrape money out of all the things that we do.”

Thorp said he still doesn’t know exactly what the University’s budget will look like, but he thinks UNC might have to re-evaluate how it allocates resources.

“In the abstract, people say you should make vertical cuts and preserve the quality of what you’re doing, but almost no one does that,” Thorp said. “People criticize universities for not being able to do this, but corporations and government agencies can’t do it either. It’s really hard to shut things down.”

Contact the University Editor at udesk@unc.edu.

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