UNC Board of Governors moves closer to closing centers, raising tuition

John Fennebresque
John Fennebresque

The UNC Board of Governors moved closer Thursday to shutting down three university-based academic centers and raising tuition, after a series of committee meetings in Charlotte.

Closing the centers, including the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at UNC-Chapel Hill, has raised the hackles of professors across the state who call it a blow to academic freedom.

Tuition and fee increase requests moved forward despite hesitance from some board members about increasing rates by as much as 10 percent over two years.

Board members also recommended approval of a new system-wide $30 campus security fee that would hire investigators and support campus police salaries.

The full board is set to vote on the proposals Friday. This week’s meetings mark the first time the 32-member governing body has met on the UNC Charlotte campus since the 1970s.

The Board of Governors is led by John Fennebresque, a Charlotte attorney.

Little discussion on centers

The proposal to close the centers, which also include East Carolina University’s Center for Biodiversity and N.C. Central University’s Institute for Civic Engagement, is the product of a board working group that unveiled its report earlier this month.

Faculty, particularly at UNC-Chapel Hill, immediately reacted strongly. Outgoing law school dean Jack Boger wrote that closing the centers would amount to “a betrayal of the university’s finest historical traditions and its future promise.”

A Board of Governors committee tasked with evaluating the report decided Thursday to pass the recommendations along to the full board without discussion.

Should the full board vote Friday to approve the resolution, the three universities would be required to report by September on how they’re progressing on closing the centers.

Another dozen centers would have to review their activities and policies and send a report up to the campus trustees.

Tuition and fees would rise

The university system’s campuses had requested tuition and fee increases that amounted to an average of 4.3 percent for in-state undergraduates next year and 3.7 percent the year after that.

Some campuses, including Appalachian State University, requested increases of 5 percent each year.

That would fall in line with a Board of Governors policy that tuition increases remain smaller than 5 percent. But budget and finance committee Vice Chairman Scott Lampe said the board really prefers increases to be closer to 3 percent.

The increases would raise $44 million and $47 million, the bulk of which would be used for faculty salaries. Several chancellors spoke of the difficulty in retaining talented professors.

Committee chairman Harry Smith said that argument can come off as “tone deaf.” He cited the fact that applications are steadily increasing across most campuses as evidence that academic prestige isn’t falling.

“There’s so many things to balance here,” committee member Lou Bissette said. “We’re all extremely concerned about the cost to students and their families. We’re also concerned with the quality of product. There is a balance.”

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