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UNC centers respond to spending review

A working group of board members is examining the UNC-system’s centers for possible budget cuts or termination, in response to a mandate by the N.C. General Assembly to consider taking $15 million away from the centers and redistributing it to other UNC-system priorities.

“We don’t have a preset outcome,” said James Holmes, a board member who is part of the working group. “It’s going to come down to asking questions about how individual centers fit within the mix of the university system.”

Todd Boyette, director of the Morehead Planetarium, said this is the first time the Planetarium has undergone this type of review and is on the list because it receives in-kind support, which is non-monetary support.

He said he has no concerns about how the Planetarium will fare in the review process.

“The University of North Carolina has a three-prong mission: teaching, research and public service,” he said. “And the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center has a 65-year history of providing public service that the university relies on to meet its mission.”

The second phase of review will take place during the next month and involve determining which of the 91 centers that remain in limbo should move onto the final round. Six institutes have already been moved to the last stage of review, including UNC’s Center for Civil Rights.

These centers that continue to the final round of the review will give presentations in front of the working group at its December meeting, and the group will then make final recommendations to the board.

Carol Tresolini, vice provost for academic initiatives, said in an email that UNC-CH has its own policy for reviewing its centers and institutes, which involves evaluating whether they meet specific goals and obtaining feedback from clients.

Nine of the centers on the board’s review list report to Tresolini, including the Morehead Planetarium.

“I hope that the outcome (of the board’s review) will be an affirmation of the mission and value of each center or institute,” she said. “The centers and institutes provide resources and extensive service to the university and the community.”

According to board documents, centers were chosen for further review if they met one or more of three criteria: if they have a budget of less than $50,000, have an economic return ratio of less than two-to-one or receive more than $100,000 of in-kind support.

Holmes said making it to the final round of review does not necessarily mean centers will face budget cuts or termination.

“If there are those that aren’t on mission, seem to not fit within our purpose, then sure we can opt to terminate if we find some that we feel like funds are better purposed elsewhere,” he said. “But how it will look, I don’t know.”

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The Global Research Institute is up for review because it operates on a budget of less than $50,000 — all of which comes from private donors, said institute Director Peter Coclanis.

He said he hasn’t been involved much in the review process, and most of the data he has been asked to provide relates to quantitative measures such as the institute’s size and scope.

“In an age of greater accountability, I think they’re trying to look at everything closely to see if there are redundancies,” he said.

Holmes said the working group plans to put together a final report by Dec. 31. He said beyond that, the board plans to develop a uniform set of policies for the creation and review of centers throughout the system — a project that will continue into 2015.