A leaner UNC

July 24, 2009 

This wasn't the best news for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A private consultant, funded by an anonymous donor, has found that the Chapel Hill campus spends more on administrative costs than it does on academics. The categories may be somewhat overlapping -- the academic enterprise requires administrative support -- but the strange balance suggests that something is out of whack.

The consultants, Bain & Company, cited findings showing that the university has too many layers in its bureaucracy, more than 100 academic centers and institutes without standard reporting structures -- many with their own finance, human resources and technology staffs -- and inadequate technology supporting its research projects.

At a time when North Carolina's budget is a few billion dollars in the hole, and the public universities are fighting economic moves they say could affect classrooms and course offerings, the last thing that a flagship institution in the UNC system needs is a report indicating bloat at the top. The report says, for one example, that up to $6 million a year could be saved if those centers and institutes consolidated their support services.

Chancellor Holden Thorp will have a task force discussing the recommendations. But changes and improvements leading to a leaner bureaucracy need to come sooner rather than later. This is no time to approach the need for change at an all-too-deliberate academic pace. Money wasted needs to be money saved.

Thanks to a generous higher education bond program that represented a huge investment in public higher education by taxpayers, UNC-CH has spent about $500 million on new buildings and renovations since 2000. Thorp says that has meant more administrative costs. To his credit, the chancellor says he'd like to reverse that ratio of administrative expense to academic expense. Now he needs to push for that change with urgency.

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