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Faculty retention concerns weigh heavily on UNC tution increases

For administrators and trustees, the decision to propose increasing tuition by 15.6 percent for in-state students came down to the financial needs of faculty, whose salaries have been frozen for three years.

UNC administrators have long stressed the dire situation of departments that find their faculty leaving for other schools. For trustees, that concern outweighed concerns for the future of the University’s affordability.

A proposal by Student Body President Mary Cooper to postpone the Board of Trustees’ decision to December was voted down after Chancellor Holden Thorp said administrators would need the time to lobby the state legislature for salary increases.

“Students and families are our last resort for revenue,” Thorp told trustees. “We have, unfortunately, reached the point of last resort.”

Bruce Carney, executive vice chancellor and provost, said the expected $15 million increase in tuition revenue will make faculty more hopeful for the future.

“The University’s future is more than courses,” Carney told the board. “It is faculty.”

But plans to lobby for faculty pay increases might not pay off. Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke, who is co-chairman of the N.C. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, said a pay increase for UNC faculty is out of the question.

“I don’t think we will give increases to UNC-Chapel Hill, when we don’t give increases to anybody else in the state. I don’t think the legislature is going to play favorites,” he said.

“The faculty at Chapel Hill are already among some of the highest people paid in the state.”

But faculty leaving UNC for other schools has become painful for many department chairmen.

“I dread a visit from a faculty member that they’ve gotten a wonderful offer from another institution because our ability to capture and counter-offer that is limited,” said Bill Kier, chairman of the biology department.

Paul Leslie, chairman of the anthropology department, said a positive teaching environment plays an equally large role as salary increases in retaining faculty.

“If it reduces class sizes or provides opportunities for new experimental courses, that helps not only students, but improves the experience for instructors and faculty,” Leslie said.

“We are at the end of our flexibility at this point,” Leslie said.

Jim Hirschfield, chairman of the art department, said the future for hiring and retaining faculty within his department remains unclear.

“The faculty that are here are dedicated and they want to be here,” Hirschfield said. “But the possibility of people being lured away to other institutions is on my mind constantly.”

Many departments have looked elsewhere to fund faculty positions needed to keep up with growing enrollment.

The biology department turned to private funds to continue hiring for one position, Kier said.

The UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center agreed to help fund a position in the department with the expectation that UNC will pick up the costs in later years, Kier said.

Sudhanshu Handa, chairman of the public policy department, said retention might worsen as faculty members realize the budget crisis isn’t near its end.

That sentiment was some trustees’ rationale for favoring Carney’s proposal, which calls for a 4 percent raise for faculty next year.

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Handa said departments have considered offering faculty more research time in lieu of salaries that have not increased.

“The idea is that if the monetary compensation isn’t changing, then maybe faculty could be given more time to do research, but then that’s less teaching time,” Handa said.

“And then if professors teach less, where does that leave the students and the teaching assistants? That’s the crux of the dilemma.”

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