The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday December 4th

UNC-system president elect Thomas Ross forecasts budget cuts

The Daily Tar Heel talked to UNC-system President-elect Thomas Ross, who will take office Jan 1. Ross discussed his opinions on tuition, budget cuts and his priorities for the system.

DTH: What do you think of the new Four Year Tuition Plan approved by the UNC-system Board of Governors?

Thomas Ross: I read it, and I think it is something I will support. If the Board of Governors has approved it, then that is my policy.

DTH: Do you agree with Erskine Bowles’ low-tuition model?

TR: I think that we need to do everything possible to comply with the constitution, which requires that higher education be affordable and practical for students. But now the question is: What’s going to be practical in the future?

None of us want to see the excellence of the university decline, so we have to balance tuition and state support.

DTH: Why did you take the job?

TR: It was the most difficult decision of my life. I love (Davidson). It was really difficult for me personally to leave.

But I feel an obligation, a responsibility to serve. This is a calling or a responsibility or duty to serve, and I think that there are a lot of people who think I can help. And I very much want to try and do whatever I can.

I’m not some kind of miracle worker who’s going to come and change all this in a few weeks or months or years, but I am somebody who’s going to work really hard.

I’m all about student involvement, and I will look for ways to be more involved with students. There’s a lot I’m giving up personally.

It’s a big challenge, but it’s a very important job for the state. The state needs this university and needs it to be strong.

But the personal side of things is moving away from your grandkid, from something you know and love to something you love but don’t know if you’re going to enjoy as much.

DTH: Is your family moving with you to Chapel Hill?

TR: My daughter and her husband are in Charlotte. My wife and I are coming and my dog, Sophie.

DTH: How much have you been communicating with the Board of Governors and administrators?

TR: I’m still trying to do this job at Davidson, so very little in terms of tasks.

We’ve been in touch with e-mails, etc. I’m using whatever spare time I have to read and learn where the university is.

I’m not interacting a lot but we’ve talked.

DTH: Do you have a length of time you think you want to remain in office?

TR: I could be here until I retire. I wasn’t looking for a job.

I feel in some ways the timing wasn’t perfect. I could have accomplished more (at Davidson), but timing isn’t up to us.

DTH: How will you deal with any further budget cuts to the system?

TR: I am definitely expecting bigger budget cuts.

In a matter of a few years, we’ve gone from $22 to $19 billion, and we’re looking at another $3.5 billion being cut — $22 to $16 billion in a span of five years is very dramatic, and that will have wide-ranging implications for the university and the government.

It’s hard to forecast. There could be substantial layoffs — from 800 to 1,700 layoffs.

DTH: What are your priorities for the UNC system as president?

TR: It’s about steering the university to continued excellence.

I understand the complexity of our current situation and the dire situation our budget is in. But I’m also somebody who will look beyond this because we will come out of this.

It might be tougher and longer than usual, but we will come out the other end and I hope we will be well-positioned to move the university forward.

I also hope to maintain strong faculty and the support services for the students, enhance those services in some ways.

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