The financial plight of the UNC system will not be revealed for another few months, but administrators are preparing for a detailed review that will help them make strategic cuts when the time comes.
Jim Woodward, former chancellor of UNC-Charlotte and N.C. State University, will be leading a review of the 2,000 degree programs offered systemwide to determine which ones universities can do without.
No specific charge or timeline for the review has been determined yet, Woodward said, but he will begin meeting with UNC-system President Thomas Ross and Board of Governors Chairwoman Hannah Gage in February and officially start on the project after March 1.
Woodward is expected to look for unnecessary duplication of programs across the system and recommend which ones could be eliminated.
Certain programs that are offered at several campuses could be cut and their resources consolidated at a single institution.
“I think with the financial difficulties, pretty much everything has to be put on the table right now,” Woodward said.
“There is duplication, but is it appropriate to serve the people of North Carolina?”
The N.C. General Assembly will begin to tackle the state’s $3.7 billion budget shortfall today. The system is planning to use the results of the review to cope with budget cuts of up to 15 percent or $405 million that will likely come as legislators try to balance the budget.
The University system has already lost $620 million in state funding in the last four years. After making deep cuts on the administrative side, system leaders are now being forced to look to the academic side.
Woodward said cutting complete programs and reorganizing the system could be a challenge because universities might be reluctant.
“There is an argument made for every single program, now are those arguments sufficient?” he said.
The way individual campuses look at their programs is similar to the old saying “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” The campuses might think their programs are important, but they might not be necessary for the state, Woodward said.
Closing down whole departments and programs would mean hundreds of layoffs, which could also cost universities money in the form of severance packages for employees.
“But the incremental cost will never be as large as the incremental savings,” he said.
And although former UNC-system President Erksine Bowles last year suggested closing down a whole campus to deal with the immediate cuts, Woodward said he doesn’t foresee that being one of his recommendations.
But implementing the recommendations of the review would translate into long-term savings that could be crucial for the system, Ross said at the UNC-system Board of Governors meeting earlier this month.
“We may learn all sorts of new ways to do things,” he said.
“We are all beginning to come to grips with the fact that the world is changing.”
A similar review of academic programs two years ago resulted in the elimination of 72 degree programs, said Alan Mabe, senior vice president for academic affairs for the UNC system.
“This has been a part of our plan all along,” Mabe said. “Now we’ll be looking at the programs systematically across.”
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