Last week a bill that would make salary cuts and layoffs at in the UNC system easier cleared the N.C. House committee on universities , putting some faculty across the system on alert as to what cost-cutting measures could be coming to mitigate financial losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
House Bill 243 would let the UNC System president (or chancellors to whom he may delegate the decision) to temporarily cut salaries up to 20 percent annually and lay off employees without approval from the Office of State Human Resources, which is now required. It would compel system leaders put in place an early retirement incentive program.
That authority, which under the bill would expire next year, is aimed at streamlining the university system’s attempt to deal with the financial shortfalls created by the pandemic. Despite receiving $700 million in federal aid, the system estimates it could end up losing approximately $300 million by the time the fiscal year ends in June. The system and its 17 campuses did not lower tuition or see the mass exodus of enrolled students some feared, but schools took heavy losses from sources like housing, dining, parking and athletics being limited or eliminated altogether during the pandemic.
Dr. Michael Behrent, chair of the Appalachian State University faculty senate, said the bill raises questions but its intent and potential impact aren’t yet totally clear.
“From my perspective, the bill raises several interesting questions,” Behrent said in a message to the school’s faculty late last week. “First, this bill suggests the UNC System’s Legislative priorities are in the process of being acted on legislatively. President Hans said faculty salaries were also a priority. Has a bill been submitted to the House that would act on this? Second, section 605 of the UNC Code lays out a specific process for consulting faculty in the event that the university declares financial exigency or engages in major program curtailment. This process is intended to extend shared governance to financial decisions that can affect faculty employment status. How is this new authorization consistent with section 605?”
Behrent said faculty passed a resolution over the summer calling for clarification of how faculty consultation would occur if layoffs, early retirements and salary cuts became necessary.
“Since the resolution was approved, the administration has never provided a clear response to it,” Behrent said.