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The Nation became the latest national media group to offer its thoughts on the changing direction of the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors, with the publication today of “How A Right-Wing Political Machine is Dismantling Higher Education in North Carolina.”

The progressive magazine took aim at recent decisions like the firing of UNC president Tom Ross and the controversial closure of three academic centers, as well as recent pledges to look at “right-sizing” the entire public university system.

From the article:

But just as pertinent as the question of what should be taught at UNC is the question of whom. Since its founding in 1789 as America’s first public university, UNC has fought to preserve the “public” part of its mission; high-quality education plus low tuition has kept more students in-state in North Carolina than anywhere else in the country. Now the board appears to be dismantling the system’s ability to fulfill that goal.

In response to deep cuts to state funding, the board has approved a series of tuition hikes—in-state students will pay 4.3 percent more next year on average—while imposing a cap on financial aid that may impact nearly 22,000 low-income students next year. Governor McCrory has suggested that schools compensate by limiting enrollment to “those who are ready for college,” a distinction that smacks of euphemism. Despite these austere times, the board voted in April to boost the salaries of top administrators to as much as $1 million a year.

The goal, apparently, is not only to put Ayn Rand into the hands of students but also to force UNC into the sort of economic order she envisioned. It matches the agenda that the legislature and McCrory have advanced throughout the state with the backing of the Pope network: cut taxes for corporations and the wealthy, and use the resulting revenue gap to justify the evisceration of safety net programs like unemployment insurance, and public institutions like schools. “You can’t separate what’s happening at the Board of Governors from what’s happening in the legislature,” Gene Nichol said over the phone in March. “They govern for the white, wealthy, straight Christians, mostly for the males, and all the rest be damned.”

“We’re capitalists,” explained Steven Long, a former Civitas board member who now sits on the Board of Governors, after the body voted in May to cut dozens of academic programs across the system. “We have to look at what the demand is, and we have to respond to the demand.”

You can read the entire piece here.

 

Commentary

As reported in this space on Tuesday, the UNC Board of Governors took action recently to eliminate or consolidate 46 degree programs across the system. The authors of an editorial in this morning’s edition of the Wilmington Star News smell an ideological agenda and are rightfully critical of the move:

“What’s notable, though, is the pattern of the cuts. Music, art and theater programs took big hits, as did programs in African-American studies, women’s studies and Hispanic studies. Programs to train foreign language teachers in French and German were axed at ECU, and math education and Latin were eliminated at UNC-Greensboro.

In some cases, the argument was that many of these programs had few students enrolled, so continuing to offer them wasted money. More generally, though, the Governors appear to be following the lead of Gov. Pat McCrory and his pal Art Pope – slashing back on classes that aren’t directly training students for a career.

McCrory, after all, famously remarked that anyone who wants to study gender issues should do so at a private university (and, incidentally, hope their daddies can pay the tuition).

The ultimate object of this seems to be to retract the UNC system into a network of pre-professional trade schools, supporting values that the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy (funded by Art Pope’s family) identifies as ‘the morality of capitalism’ and ‘limits on government.’

That’s simply wrong. “Liberal education” doesn’t mean studying the collected works of Nancy Pelosi or Rachel Maddow; it refers to teaching students to think independently. That requires exposure to the fine arts, to alien points of view and to foreign cultures.

Cutting funds to train a future generation of high school foreign-language teachers is especially wrongheaded, at a time when we’re told we have to compete in a “global” economy. How can we do that if we don’t understand what the other person is saying?

Click here to read the entire editorial.

News

The N.C. House of Representatives released portions of its budget Thursday, and included several significant changes and some cuts for public higher education.

UNCsystemThe entire budget – which is expected to fill in gaps about whether raises are in store for state employees and teachers – is expected to be released Monday, and voted on by the Republican-led House that week.

Senate Republican leaders have not announced when their version of the budget will be done.

Several significant changes were trotted out by House budget writers this week for the state’s public higher education system.

The House did fund expected growth in the system but also calls for $44.3 million over the next two years in management cuts and would roll out a program that would push academically weak college students into a community college program before gaining entry into the state’s four-year universities.

Drew Moretz, the University of North Carolina system’s vice-president for government affairs, said the House calls for fewer cuts than what Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget proposed.

“It’s a better starting point than what the governor had given us,” Moretz said.

The system as a whole has had $658 million in management cuts since 2008-09, he said.

The House budget would also, for the first time, allow low-income students to get scholarships to virtually attend Western Governors University, an online education program that’s been touted as a low-cost education option by groups like the conservative John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

House lawmakers also want to delay more than 1,000 prospective students from attending the state’s public universities by requiring the UNC system to defer admissions to students who meet admissions standards but don’t have strong academic histories

Read More

Commentary

In case you missed it earlier today, be sure to check out this new and sobering release from the Justice Center on the sorry state of North Carolina’s investment in higher education:

North Carolina’s spending on higher education cut deeply since 2008
Shortchanging public universities and colleges reduces access to higher education, hurts economy

RALEIGH (May 13, 2015) — Even as most states have begun to restore funding for higher education that was cut during the recession, North Carolina has continued to cut funding for public universities, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.  As a result, tuitions have risen dramatically and the quality of education here has suffered, which will make it harder for the state to attract businesses that rely on a well-educated workforce.

“Smart investments in public colleges and universities will help to strengthen North Carolina’s economy,” said Cedric Johnson of the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “Communities with highly educated residents attract employers who pay competitive wages. Their employees then spend money in their community, boosting the economy of the entire area. That’s what North Carolina needs as our economy continues to recover from the damaging Great Recession.”

Nationwide, states are spending 20 percent less per student on higher education than they did in 2008, after adjusting for inflation. With such deep cuts in higher education investment, colleges and universities have had to raise tuition, cut spending, or both. As a result, tuition at four-year public colleges has grown nationally by 29 percent since the 2007-08 school year.

For North Carolina, costly tax cuts in recent years have hindered the state’s ability to invest in what works, such as its well-regarded public university system. State funding for higher education has been cut by more than 20 percent since 2008 when adjusted for inflation, according to the new report. Meanwhile, the average tuition at a public, four-year college increased by 36 percent during this period. Read More

News
N.C. Community College President Scott Ralls

N.C. Community College President Scott Ralls

North Carolina is now on the hunt for new leaders of both its higher education systems, with today’s announcement that N.C. Community College President Scott Ralls is taking a job in Virginia.

The News & Observer’s Jane Stancill reported early this afternoon that Ralls is taking a new job to head the Northern Virginia Community College, a campus with 75,000 students.

In North Carolina, Rawls has headed the 58-campus state community college system that serves 850,000 students since 2008. He will start his new job in September. (Click here to read the announcement from the Virginia community college.)

From the N&O:

Ralls has led the North Carolina community college system since 2008. The system had phenomenal growth — 28 percent — in the first three years of his tenure, which was during the depths of the recession.

At the same time, the system experienced a budget crunch, all while embarking on a strategy to revamp curriculum, improve graduation rates and forge new transfer agreements with the state’s university system.

A former president of Craven Community College in New Bern and Havelock, Ralls said Thursday he had always intended to return to a campus setting, where he could interact with students and faculty.

“That’s who I am and where my heart is,” Ralls said Thursday. “I’ve always aspired to go back to a campus.”

Ralls’ forthcoming departure comes at the state’s university system is also looking for its new leader, after the UNC Board of Governors moved in January to push out President Tom Ross.

UNC Board of Governors Chairman John Fennebresque denied that politics played a roll in Ross’ ouster, but no reasons other than a general desire for change have been given.

Ross is staying in his position until January, and a successor is expected to be announced this fall.