Proposals in the N.C. General Assembly ranging from tuition hikes to student group functions have brought a bedrock issue to the fore: the degree to which UNC-system campuses will continue to be granted autonomy from the state.
And they have drawn the ire of UNC administrators and students.
University administrators lobbied against the 12.3 percent tuition increase for out-of-state students at six schools, including UNC-CH, proposed in Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget.
Drew Moretz, vice president for government relations for the UNC system, met with McCrory’s team while his budget was being drafted to discuss concerns.
He said the tuition increase could result in fewer students enrolling at system schools, which could discourage businesses from staying in the state.
“There were some ideas we disagreed upon vehemently, and I think the out-of-state tuition was something we disagreed with,” he said.
“The out-of-state tuition increase makes it harder for some campuses who are trying to recruit the best and brightest.”
But Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Moore, co-chairman of the N.C. Senate education committee, said the increase in tuition would be modest.
“It will still be less to go to our great institutions with the proposed increase than it is to their competing counterparts in other states,” Tillman said.
Bruce Carney, provost for UNC-CH, said the money from tuition increases would funnel into the state’s general fund rather than universities.
“Increasing the tuition and keeping the money is the legislature’s prerogative, but morally it’s indefensible,” he said.
“The revenues from tuition increases should be going to support students, the faculties, the libraries and the University operations.”
Carney also said the tuition increases could affect admissions to the University’s professional schools.
In addition, bills pertaining to campus life have been met with opposition from students.
Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Franklin, co-sponsored a bill that would prohibit gender-neutral housing on campus. Barefoot said the program would be too costly in terms of time and resources.
Yet Rick Bradley, assistant director of housing for UNC-CH, said the program will not impose any additional costs on the University.
Gender-neutral housing was passed unanimously by the UNC-CH Board of Trustees in November after months of activism from student groups and the UNC-CH LGBTQ Center.
Sophomore Chris Sigmann, political director for the UNC-CH Young Democrats, said the gender-neutral housing program addressed an issue that should be handled by campus leaders.
“This is not a policy that would affect the state at large,” he said.
Students were also the subject of a bill filed last week that would allow religious and political student organizations to determine their core functions and resolve disputes.
In 2011, senior Will Thomason was expelled from the Christian a cappella group Psalm 100 by members of the group based on his beliefs about homosexuality, leading to an investigation of the University’s non-discrimination policies.
“Issues such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion are among our most treasured rights,” said Rep. Bert Jones, R-Caswell, a co-sponsor of the bill. “Such issues are not limited to campus affairs.”
But Sigmann said he is worried about how some organizations could implement the law.
Greg Steele, chairman of the N.C Federation of College Republicans, said that though the bills were filed, it does not mean they will pass.
“A lot of these bills may reflect the idea of just one senator,” Steele said.
Still, Steele said the legislature has the right to implement policies on behalf of voters.
“I think that is a justification to have those taxpayers and people who represent them to have a say in the University,” Steele said.
Regardless of the bills’ chances of passing, Sigmann said students should make their voices heard in the political debate.
“The best chance (students) have is to really make (themselves) visible,” he said. “Reach out to people outside the University and make sure they know the University is going to be hurt.”
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