News: CJ Exclusives

UNC Head Sees No Need to Close Any Campuses

President Tom Ross says the system is always looking for efficiencies

UNC system President Tom Ross said on Monday that the administration would look at ways to effect more efficiencies, but added he didn’t think closing any of the campuses was a good idea.

Regarding an idea floated by Senate Republican budget leaders earlier this year that closure of one or more of the UNC campuses had been considered, Ross said that he questioned how much money could be saved by doing so. “We’re happy to look at the idea of closing campuses if you want us to,” Ross said. “The economics of it are not smart for North Carolina.”

Ross, who oversees the UNC system’s 16 universities plus one specialized high school, met with a group of journalists at a lunch gathering in downtown Raleigh on Monday. The UNC Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s Program on Public Life sponsored the luncheon.

Ross said students who would have attended the closed campus would likely enroll at another UNC campus, with the tax dollars following them.

“If you close a campus, you’d be left with hundreds of millions of dollars in investments,” Ross said. He said he didn’t know who would buy those campuses, and the state would be left with campus upkeep until a buyer was found.

Ross said that although he is concerned about proposed budget cuts to the university system, he feels that increasing out-of-state tuition might be counterproductive. “We’re not likely to keep the same number of out-of-state students,” Ross said. “You lose your ability to compete in the market.” That could lead to even lower revenues from out-of-state students, Ross said.

Ross said the UNC system would continue to look for efficiencies. Potential efficiencies include consolidation of offices to determine a student’s residency and one to determine a student’s need for financial aid.

He said that the UNC system gets about 50,000 duplicate applications a year, meaning such students have applied for admission to more than one of the UNC campuses. “The outcome ought to be the same no matter which campus is doing it,” Ross said.

He added that the system already looks regularly at whether some programs should be closed.

“We’ve closed over 300 programs in the last five years,” Ross said. “Periodically, we have every campus go through all their programs and look at the low-performing ones.”

Ross said that many of the recession-induced cuts taken by the UNC system have come out of the operations side. “It now has to come out of the academics side,” Ross said.

He also went to bat for the system’s commitment to a liberal arts education. He said that people graduating from universities will hold different jobs over the course of their lifetime, and will need skills to adapt.

“I’ve had three completely different careers,” Ross said, referring to his legal career, his tenure leading a nonprofit organization, and his most-recent career in academics. “Guess what? I have a liberal arts education.”

He said that broad-based education teaches people to think across disciplines, identify problems, and solve them.

Barry Smith is an Associate Editor of Carolina Journal.