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NC Budget and Tax Center

A report released yesterday by ThinkNC First argues that decision makers in Raleigh have walked away from many of the programs that helped to build a middle-class in North Carolina. Authors William Lester and Nichola Lowe of the University of North Carolina review data showing that middle-income jobs have become much harder to find over the last decade. The report ties this disturbing trend to recent policy decisions to underfund state programs that foster industries that create livable wages and ensure that all North Carolinians can access those jobs. The report makes a strong case that state leaders should heed our history and remember how North Carolina became an economic powerhouse in the Southeast in the first place.

The central problem documented in the report is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. For the second half of the 20th century, North Carolina’s economy generated strong employment growth up a down the wage scale. Since the start of the Great Recession however, most of the job growth has been in either very high or very low paying industries. The labor market hollowed out, as many industries, particularly in manufacturing, saw employment decline. We here are the Budget and Tax Center have been watching this same trend, and its not pretty.

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UNC law professor Gene Nichol

UNC law professor Gene Nichol

The University of North Carolina’s Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, in order to comply with a February decision by the university’s system governing board, shut its doors last week.

The privately-funded center based out of the Chapel Hill law school, UNC Board of Governor Chairman John Fennebresque explained in an editorial, “was unable to demonstrate any appreciable impact on the issue of poverty.”

But many had trouble believing that reasoning, speculating that the center’s closing was an attempt to censor Gene Nichol, the tenured law professor who heads the poverty center and a vocal critic of policies passed by the Republican-led legislature and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.

The UNC Board of Governors gets its appointments from the state legislature, and its ranks include several major contributors to the political campaigns of state Republicans.

But the work at the poverty center isn’t finished, Nichol wrote in the Institute for Southern Studies last week.

Funding for the center’s work has continued, and even increased, after the controversial closing of the center, and Nichol will now head the N.C. Poverty Research Fund.

From Nichol, in the Institute for Southern Studies:

I’ve been blessed with a long and varied academic career. But none of my efforts has approached the extraordinary honor of working, side by side for the past seven years, with North Carolina low-income communities and the dedicated students, professors, advocates and providers who seek to serve them. Together, we have sought to focus a meaningful light on the challenges of poverty and to push back against policies that foster economic injustice. Those efforts, as you know, have led the UNC Board of Governors to close the Poverty Center. But poverty is the enemy in North Carolina. Not a tiny, privately-funded Poverty Center.  Heather Hunt and I have no words to match the gratitude we feel for the astonishing support the Poverty Center has received, in recent months, from thousands across North Carolina and the nation.

As the Poverty Center closes, the Law School now launches the North Carolina Poverty Research Fund. Thanks to the generosity of North Carolina foundations, and engaged and committed citizens from across the country, the new Fund will allow us to hire student, faculty and post-doctorate scholars to assist us in probing the causes of, and solutions to, economic injustice – and to publish, extensively, the fruits of our research. Donors have indicated repeatedly that they are unwilling to see the crucial work of the Poverty Center driven from the halls of the university. The Fund will assure that it continues, and that it continues in Chapel Hill. Censorship has poor track record. It won’t prevail here either.

Poverty is North Carolina’s greatest challenge. In one of the most economically vibrant states of the richest nation on earth, 18 percent of us live in wrenching poverty. Twenty-five percent of our kids. Forty percent of our children of color. We have one of the country’s fastest rising poverty rates. A decade ago, North Carolina had the 26th highest rate among the states. Now we’re 10th, speeding past the competition. Greensboro, the federal government tells us, is the hungriest city in America. Charlotte has the nation’s worst economic mobility. Over the last decade, North Carolina experienced the country’s steepest rise in concentrated poverty. Poverty, amidst plenty, stains the life of this storied commonwealth. Even if our leaders choose to ignore it.

You can read the rest of Nichol’s comments here.

News

Want to know what the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors is looking for in its next leader?

Here’s the 46-page leadership statement (scroll down to read) adopted Thursday by a board subcommittee that spells out what qualifications, qualities and values are desired for whoever replaces outgoing UNC President Tom Ross.

The statement was developed by taking input from a number of stakeholder groups, from the board itself, as well as faculty, students, alumni, business leaders and the general public.

As would be expected, there was significant variety in what different groups are looking for in the next UNC president.

According to the lengthy leadership statement, students want an energetic leader, who “values diversity and accessibility in the UNC system.”

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The pay for presidents of public universities is rising, with the median salary for the president of a public university now $428,250.

That’s an increase of 7 percent, while two presidents in the nation (at Pennsylvania State University and Texas A&M) made more than $1 million, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, which released its annual survey of public college presidents this week.

UNCsystemUniversity of North Carolina system President Tom Ross made $543,725 during the 2014-15 school year, according the Chronicle analysis. N.C. State University Chancellor Randy Woodson made $520,000, as did UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt.

Scott Ralls, the outgoing head of the state’s community college system, made $286,954.

In an article about the Chronicle’s findings, the New York Times pointed out that not all college presidents want that higher pay.

The University of Texas’ incoming president turned down a $1 million base salary, asking instead for $750,000 out of concern of how the higher pay would be perceived by students, faculty and the state legislature.

The paycheck for the top job at UNC is likely to increase from Ross’ current salary, after the UNC Board of Governors moved in April to allow for salaries up to $1.1 million for the new president as well as increased pay for chancellors.

The board is in the midst of its search for a new president of the 16-campus system, after Ross was pushed out in January by the politically-appointed board for reasons that have still not been explained. Ross will stay in his position until January.

Pay, and the ability to offer more money to job candidates, has been mentioned by some board members as a necessary tool to recruit UNC’s next leader.

The decision to allow for more pay for top executives in the university systems comes after several years of deep cuts handed down to the university system by the state legislature, and as faculty and staff have seen little change in their salaries during the course of the recession.

There may be some salary increases for UNC employees, however. The House version of next year’s budget has a 2 percent raise proposed for university system staff and faculty.

The Senate is expected to release its version of the budget in coming days, though Senate leaders have said to expect a significantly smaller budget than what their colleagues in the House prepared.

So, what do you think? Should North Carolina be paying its top university leaders what it does? How much does salary matter when it comes to recruiting for top university jobs?

News

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.