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Another year, another budget cut for public universities in North Carolina

Vacant positions won’t cushion much of the blow from budget cuts at University of North Carolina system campuses this year, UNC officials said Thursday. Public universities have put plans together to deal with budget cuts of 5 percent and 10 percent for 2011-12, and data presented to the UNC Board of Governors on Thursday suggest large job losses. A 10 percent cut could lead to 2,000 job cuts across the system, including 1,000 faculty members, according to data discussed by the board. A 5 percent cut would eliminate 900 positions, including 400 faculty members. Systemwide, UNC has about 47,000 employees.

The cuts would help the state close a budget gap estimated at more than $3.7 billion. The system has taken more than $600 million in cuts over the past four years. But campus chancellors had long planned for cuts by holding positions open rather than filling them. Doing so has protected at least some workers from layoffs — until now. “We have pretty much cleared out those vacant positions,” said N.C. Central University Chancellor Charlie Nelms. “They’re pretty much gone. Now we’re talking about people.”

Officials say they expect budget cuts to hit the classroom far harder than they have to this point. Two years ago, then-UNC President Erskine Bowles ordered most of more than 900 job cuts to come from the administrative side of the ledger to protect the university’s core academic mission. A year ago, officials feared deep academic cuts before the legislature allowed campuses to increase tuition to help cover costs.

This year, cuts to administration won’t do the job. “We’re now going to see a shift,” said Jeff Davies, the UNC system’s chief of staff. “Our administrative ranks are thin.” The effect on students would be evident when they try to register for classes. By eliminating hundreds of teaching positions, the UNC system also would lose thousands of course sections. With a 5 percent cut, 2,750 course sections would be lost; with a 10 percent cut, that number would swell to 6,400, according to the data.(Eric Ferreri, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 1/14/11).

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