UNC schools feeling the cuts; 3,000 workers lose jobs

3,000 workers lose their jobs

Staff WriterSeptember 9, 2011 

At N.C. Central University, 350 students weren't able to get into a required math class this semester. At N.C. State, students won't get an answer at the computer help desk after regular business hours. And at UNC-Chapel Hill, the high-rise library is closing at midnight instead of 2 a.m.

The budget cuts across the UNC system are being felt in ways both big and small. On Thursday, a report from UNC system officials tallied the job losses and other impacts from $414 million in state budget reductions this fiscal year.

The UNC system has cut just over 3,000 employees - including 488 full-time and 2,544 part-time workers. Another 1,487 vacant jobs were eliminated. Last year, the system's workforce across North Carolina was 47,000.

"I've dealt with a lot of budgets, but I've never had a challenge quite like this one," said NCCU Chancellor Charlie Nelms."

Most of the part-timers who were let go were contract instructors, known as adjunct professors. That means bigger classes and fewer academic choices for the university system's 220,000 students. For example, UNC Greensboro has cut 975 course sections, or about 40,000 student seats.

The pain played out differently at various campuses, because leaders were given flexibility to decide where to cut. Across the system, the cuts were equivalent to about 15.6 percent of the budget. Reductions ranged from a low of 8.4 percent at the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics in Durham to a high of 17.9 percent at UNC-CH.

Many of the job eliminations were in the Triangle, particularly at NCSU and UNC-CH. But the two large research campuses also had the ability to save about 300 jobs by moving them to a different source of funding, such as federal grants. At the smaller campuses, the loss of positions was unavoidable. Winston-Salem State dropped 8 percent of its faculty positions, while Elizabeth City State lost 14 percent.

Management targeted

Universities were directed by the legislature to reduce middle and senior management positions to avoid hurting the classroom. That has happened, too. Linda Brady, UNCG chancellor, described how several schools on the campus were merged to save about $1 million a year on administrative costs.

The cuts also show up elsewhere. Students have less access to academic advisers, and they're finding computer labs and libraries closed at times. For example, libraries at Appalachian State and UNC Wilmington no longer are open around the clock on weekdays. ASU's library lost 35 hours of operation a week, while UNCW lost 25 hours.

Perhaps the most noticeable difference is the size of classes. At UNC Asheville, nearly every class is bigger, the report said. At Western Carolina University, the number of classes with more than 50 students has doubled.

At NCCU, the picture is complicated by the fact that the university has raised its admissions standards, leading to a loss of tuition dollars because of a dip in enrollment. Nelms, the chancellor, said he has directed his top lieutenants to prepare plans by the end of the year to save another $2 million in operations and to look at academic programs to see what to drop and what to focus on given the area's job market.

"In the new normal, we have to look at evaluating, consolidating, eliminating and enhancing," Nelms said.

The impact on student graduation rates won't be known for a few years, Nelms said, but taking out thousands of class seats will no doubt result in students having to wait for courses needed for diplomas.

"You can't do it," he said. "Exactly how much you'll add to it, we don't know. But if you have to come back next year and do a similar thing, and a similar thing, it's going to catch up with you."

What students see

The impact on the academic experience is not measurable.

Shruthi Rajan, a UNC-CH sophomore from Charlotte, doesn't like having to leave the library at midnight. "I feel inconvenienced," she said. "Usually everyone gets there at 11, and we'd like to stay until 2 (a.m.)," she said.

Another library is open much later, but it's often crowded and noisier, said Rajan, a biomedical engineering major.

She has also found that some basic required classes are harder to get into, but she hasn't had trouble in her major. Has she detected a slide in quality?

"As far as day-to-day life, I have not really noticed much," she said.

jane.stancill@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4559

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