Opinion: Clarion Call

Call. 39: Apocalypse at UNC

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is in crisis, according to professors and students who squared off in a debate this week over a plan to increase student tuition. The tuition increases would be used to boost faculty salaries. The debate was sponsored by UNC-CH’s Dialectic and Philanthropic societies.

To attract the best students and to ensure a quality education at UNC-CH, we must raise faculty salaries, said Linda Dykstra, Dean of the Graduate School, whose annual salary is $179,979*. “That is what this proposal is about… ensuring a quality education.”
“Of our 16 peer institutions, we rank ninth,” said Dr. Pete Andrews ($108,652), chairman of the faculty and member of the chancellor’s faculty salary committee. “If we don’t implement these increases, we will slip.” Andrews said UNC-CH might adopt a “high tuition, higher aid” model — increasing tuition, while continuing to increase student financial aid.

But student leaders called the model “putting the cart before the horse.” “How do we know, Dr. Andrews, that the higher tuition, higher aid formula will work?” asked Student Body President Nic Heinke. The decision to raise faculty salaries could set off a chain reaction whereby prospective “Carolina” students defect to UNC-Pembroke because they cannot afford tuition. Another chain effect , said Jeff Neiman, president of the Association of Student Governments, could be that every UNC-system school starts to mimic UNC-CH, raising tuition to boost faculty salaries. Then nobody will be able to attend any of the UNC-system schools.

The professors said that was unlikely. Over half of UNC-CH’s graduate students are fully supported and will continue to be, said Dykstra. But Lee Conner, President of the Graduate and Professional Student Federation, said that very few tuition remissions are available for needy students and added that a very thin line separates the “haves” from the “have-nots.” “It’s a sense of insecurity. It’s a sense of fear… and we don’t need it at this university,” Conner said.

The idea that low tuition makes education available for all students is a lie, said Edward Samulski ($125,094), Chairman of UNC-CH’s Chemistry Department.
Andrews noted that North Carolina’s median family income in 1999 is $46,000. The median family income of Carolina students is $80,000. Thus, students can bear the tuition increases needed to keep top professors and ensure quality education better than the taxpayers.

Money aside, Heinke said, this proposal would drive a wedge between Carolina faculty and students. Students and faculty should join forces and address the state legislature together, instead of fighting for different things. The reason people come to Carolina instead of going to Duke, Heinke concluded, is because students here pay only 12 percent of their tuition and feel driven to give back. “If we paid all of [our tuition], we’d take our degree and leave.”

*The amounts listed are annual salary figures from UNC-CH’s Department of Payroll. Those figures are not to be confused with total annual compensation (including medical and other benefits) which would be higher.

IN OTHER NEWS: Higher education enjoys strong support from the general public, even as K-12 continues to suffer criticism, according to a new report, “Doing Comparatively Well: Why The Public Loves Higher Education and Criticizes K-12.” The report, authored by John Immerwahr, Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs at Villanova University, analyzes why higher education has managed to escape most of the criticism leveled against K-12 education. Immerwahr warns that business leaders are increasingly critical of higher education. “Is this a harbinger of the future?” he asks, “Will other groups also become more critical as they learn more about higher education?”