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Amid a growing budget crisis, UNC names Nate Knuffman chief financial officer


Nathan Knuffman was recently named chief financial officer and vice chancellor for finance and operations. Photo courtesy of Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill.

UNC budget shortfall presents a serious problem. But Nate Knuffman, the new chief financial officer and vice chancellor for finance and operations, hopes to bring solutions and has received support from the University's faculty members.  

The University is facing a roughly billion-dollar deficit from three sources — a $100 million structural deficit; $200 million in losses stemming from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic; and $850 million in deferred maintenance. After extensive negotiations with faculty committees, Knuffman helped the University develop a solution to address financial challenges as the interim vice chancellor for finance and operations. 

Knuffman took on this interim role after Jonathan Pruitt left UNC-Chapel Hill to work for the UNC System last fall. 

After a competitive, national search, the University announced Knuffman as the new chief financial officer in a campus message on March 12. Knuffman officially started in this role on March 22. 

Knuffman's plan 

In the March 19 meeting of the Faculty Council and general faculty, Knuffman laid out the plan to balance the University budget. Schools and departments face a 1.5 percent cut to personnel funds and 7.5 percent cut to operations funds for fiscal years 2021 and 2022. Individual department budgets submitted in response to this proposal have been approved by the University. 

Knuffman stressed the value of implementing the plan now.

“Collectively, this really reflects our commitment to fiscal responsibility," Knuffman said at the meeting. "We are on track to balance our budget by fiscal year 2022, and for the foreseeable future. Many have asked: ‘Why tackle this now?’ We believe it is prudent and fiscally responsible. Inaction is not sustainable. Moreover, our governing bodies are demanding more fiscal responsibility.” 

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz expressed confidence in Knuffman’s handling of the budget situation in a statement to The Daily Tar Heel.

“Over the past several months, Nate has been instrumental in helping the University develop a comprehensive plan to address our financial challenges and create a new budget model during unprecedented times. He has become a familiar face to many, as he has presented to numerous groups about how we will address our budget challenges and implement a new budget model for the future," Guskiewicz said in the statement.

Faculty support

Mimi Chapman, chairperson of the faculty, said there has been an improvement in the University’s handling of the budget. She noted Knuffman’s attentiveness and responsiveness to the requests of faculty. 

"There's been more conversation and transparency between the administration and Faculty Council about budget planning than there's ever been," she said. 

Deb Aikat, a professor at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, also praised Knuffman and his approach thus far. 

“Nate Knuffman is coming in at a really difficult time for this University," Aikat said. "So we really need his leadership to move us forward. He has been engaged in extensive budget discussions and they already decided on what to cut."

Aikat said UNC needs someone who deals with finances in a strategic and compassionate way in the role of chief financial officer to handle the growing budget crisis. 

"I find that Nate Knuffman is that person," Aikat said.

Still, Aikat remains wary of the long-term effects budget cuts can have on public education. 

“For the average child who lives in North Carolina, when they go to college, the tuition is a steal,” he said. "That is a privilege we provide for our citizens. All of this doesn't come out of the ether. We have sustained it. But if we continue these budget cuts, we are defunding this fine education.”

But Aikat believes that Knuffman has the potential to benefit the University for years to come.

"I think his shoulders must be heavy pulling this off," Aikat said. "If he can pull this off, he would not only save Carolina, but the spirit of higher education in the great state of North Carolina.”

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University desk reporter Grace Battle Thompson contributed reporting.