UNCG Campus Weekly

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As 2011 Begins: Brady on Budget, Restructuring, Student Success

011211Headline_CHAInterview

Chancellor Linda P. Brady sat down last Thursday with Campus Weekly editor Mike Harris to provide updates and respond to questions on some of the most top-of-mind news topics on campus.

Chancellor Brady, I know you were a part of two discussions with students as the semester drew to a close – the forum for students about tuition/fees and your fireside chat with students. [Click here to view article about the Trustees approving a hike in tuition and fees – subject to Board of Governors approval.] Aside from the dollars and cents coming out of students’ pockets, what do students tell you about how the budget crunch is affecting them?

Obviously, students and their families are concerned about the rising cost of higher education. But they are equally concerned about the importance of maintaining access to the classes they need to graduate and the importance of maintaining quality for the institution. While there are concerns about rising costs, students also understand that we remain in the bottom quartile of our peers [regarding cost], and that we remain a very good buy. They do not want us to sacrifice the quality of the education they receive and therefore the value of their degrees.

My understanding is that UNCG submitted a budget proposal with 5 percent cuts and also with 10 percent cuts. What is the status of those proposals? Could cuts be higher? Is there a timeline?

Yes, just before the holiday break, the chancellors received a memorandum jointly from Erskine Bowles and Tom Ross, as the outgoing and the incoming presidents of the system, talking about budget management for the remainder of the current fiscal year and looking ahead to 2011-12.

In terms of the current fiscal year, we have been asked to reduce our spending by an additional 2.5 percent. This is something the governor has mandated for state agencies, and while the universities do not report to the governor – they are not a cabinet department – President Bowles and President Ross agreed to hold the universities to the same standard.

That would be the fiscal year through June 30, 2011?

That’s correct. And indeed we have allocated out those cuts. The memo I sent out is on the Budget web site. For UNCG, that will be $4.3 million in additional cuts that we will take between now and the end of the fiscal year. I have allocated those cuts out to the divisions, and they are in the process of identifying how they will cut expenditures by $4.3 million.

Because revised assessments suggest the budget deficit that may be as high as $3.7 billion in 2011-12, the universities have now been asked to plan for a 15 percent cut, as well as 5 and 10 percent cuts. Indeed, if the $3.7 billion deficit occurs – and if the cuts were applied uniformly across all state agencies – the universities would have to be reduced by 19.5 percent.

19.5 percent?

Yes. I have now also asked the vice chancellors and the provost to suggest strategies for how they would take an additional five percent cut over and above the 10 percent cut they have already planned for.

Once you get to 15 percent, it becomes very, very difficult. We have been asked by President Ross to prepare strategic cuts that will focus on curtailment or elimination of programs and services, rather than attempting to cut across the board. And indeed I have asked the vice chancellors and the provost to begin thinking about what programs and services they would recommend we would curtail or no longer deliver, if we have to take a cut of that magnitude.

Is there a particular timeline you have in mind for that process?

The chancellors will have an initial discussion with President Ross about strategy on January 24. I’ve already had one conversation with Executive Staff. I’ll be talking with Staff Senate Executive Committee today [Jan. 6] to get some input from them. And there will be opportunities to engage with others on campus and with the Board of Trustees over the next several weeks.

At this point, we have not been asked to prepare specific plans. The first conversation with President Ross will focus on strategies. For example, we believe that the university system needs to make a very strong case for one-time as opposed to continuing cuts. One-time cuts, if authorized by the governor, enable us to do furloughs, rather than having to lay off as many employees. From a business standpoint and an economic standpoint, I do not believe that it helps the state recover if we simply lay off 150, 200, 250 UNCG faculty and staff. That doesn’t make good economic sense, because if people are not working they are not paying taxes, they are collecting unemployment, and there are additional burdens on social services. And it makes it extremely difficult to rebuild.

I think the consensus not only here but across the university system is that we would like to have the ability to take at least a portion of our cut as one-time rather than continuing – even if we might have to consider extending those “one-time” cuts for an additional year. We would much prefer to have that flexibility rather than to have to take a permanent cut of that magnitude.

There are a number of updates and documents recently posted on UNCG’s Budget web site. I’ll link to those. Are there any other key things perhaps faculty and staff may want to keep in mind, in the coming months, in relation to budget?

The timing of all of this will be difficult, because we are going into a long [legislative] session that will begin January 26. With a change in leadership and with a shift in control from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party in both the House and the Senate, that means new leadership, new committee leadership and many people in new roles.

We may not know until after July 1 what cuts we will have to take and what the budget will look like for 2011-12. And that’s why we’re beginning to think now about strategies for approaching those cuts, even though we may not be able to actually execute a plan until after the beginning of the next fiscal year.

Let me ask you about the UNCG/Glenwood Mixed-Use Village. I know a lot of work – and discussions with the Glenwood community – has gone into this. Why is this project important at this time? Is it a matter of raising student retention and success rates?

We have been charged by the Board of Governors of the UNC system and General Administration to raise our retention and graduation rates. We do know, from national research and from the experience of our own students, that students who live in university-managed housing are more successful academically. They tend to be retained at higher levels. They tend to have higher graduation rates. They also tend to be more actively engaged on the campus in leadership roles. Improving retention and graduation rates is one of the goals of our expansion.

We also want to restore the residential character of the university. In the 1960s we housed about 80 percent of our students on campus. Now we house approximately one-third. We needed to expand and also wanted to preserve much of the remaining green space on the current campus. So over a period of three years we have looked at demand, we have looked at opportunities – whether to expand to the south or to the west. Both options were highlighted as possibilities in UNCG’s Master Plan. The Board of Trustees approved an expansion to the south, and we have indeed been working for the last year with the Glenwood neighborhood to develop and refine a plan that will address our needs in terms of the number of beds and the need for a new indoor recreation center – while addressing their concerns about a growing university presence.

What are some of the first things people will see?

The design for Phase 1 of the mixed-use village began in December [2010]. That will be a plan for 800 beds and mixed-use retail space.

Will the entryway under the railroad tracks be part of Phase 1?

Yes, there are two other components to Phase 1: The design of the pedestrian underpass is already under way. The design for a central police station, which will also be located on Lee Street, will begin early this year.

Let me ask about academic restructuring. I understand you and the provost met with HES and HHP staff around the first of December to hear concerns and answer questions. Can you talk a bit about those meetings?

The provost and I met separately with staff in each of those schools.

Staff are obviously concerned about their status. It’s a difficult time to engage in academic restructuring because we are involved in this at the same time that we’re trying to deal with a very difficult budget environment. One of the challenges has been separating those two issues.

Even if we were not in the current budgetary environment, this restructuring would be going forward. It is extremely important to position UNCG with respect to academic programs related to health and human development in a way that will build on our strengths but also enhance our competitiveness with other institutions.

I think there has been some confusion about the fundamental purpose of the restructuring. The purpose of the restructuring is not for us to be able to take a $17 million budget cut, because obviously that won’t be the case. Will there be savings? Absolutely. We estimate, at a minimum, a million dollars in recurring administrative costs. We won’t know precisely what the savings will be until a decision is made on the structure of the new unit and the transition committee has an opportunity to address needs.

The goal that the provost and I had in meeting with the staff of the two units was to hear their concerns, and to correct some misperceptions that are out there. Once we know what the new structure will be, we’ll move into the creation of a transition team that will include staff from all of the functional areas that will need to be addressed, including Student Services, IT support, Development and others.

Now we are planning a joint meeting of the staff from HES and HHP probably later this month, and there will be representatives from HRS at that meeting, to address any specific concerns that SPA staff in particular may have. But we thought it important to meet separately with the two groups first, because they do indeed have different issues and concerns.

[To read Chancellor Brady’s column about UNCG’s academic restructuring that appeared in the Dec. 23 News and Record, click here.]

Can I ask you about timeline and how the work of the Academic Restructuring Committee is proceeding?

The provost and I had a meeting with the committee before the winter break. The committee has met, I believe, five or six times. They are posting summaries of their meetings on the Academic Restructuring web site, which can reached from the university home page. I understand that they have developed several options. They are beginning to address the strengths and weaknesses of each of the options. And the members of the Restructuring Committee are taking those options back to their constituencies to get additional feedback. I believe the committee is making good progress and I would expect within the next month to six weeks they will have a preliminary report for the provost. At that point we will engage broader input on the options.

On the timeline: our goal is for the committee to issue its report, for the provost and me to receive additional input, for Executive Staff to consider the options, and for me to make a recommendation on an option to the Board of Trustees at the May meeting. Assuming the Trustees approve the recommendation, we would then endeavor to get it on the agenda of the Board of Governors as early as the June meeting. That enables us to put together the transition committee that will look at all the issues related to implementation of the new structure. That committee would begin work over the summer. But, indeed, we expect that it will be Fall 2012 before we will actually implement the new unit.

And that really parallels the approach that we took with the creation of the School of Music, Theatre and Dance. We went through a very similar process.

One last question, chancellor. Over the last days, the students have been returning to campus, and you can sense that energy as they look to a new year. As we begin 2011, are there one or two things that you most look forward to in this new year?

All you have to do is look at the campus and know that there is a great deal of excitement and forward progress.

We will open the new School of Education building this spring. That will be an incredible facility. It will enable us to offer programs in which UNCG students are using the technologies that they will actually use in the classroom. It’s a very great help to us in recruiting the very best faculty and students into the School of Education.

We also continue to move forward on the implementation of our Strategic Housing Plan, which not only relates to the UNCG/Glenwood Mixed-Use Village but the new residence hall, Jefferson Suites, going up across the street from the School of Education building. That will open next fall. At that point we will begin renovation of the Quad.

I think there are many positive things going on. Last fall we admitted our first class of graduate students in Nanoscience. The JSNN building at Gateway University Research Park will open this time next year.

A lot of exciting things happening.

We’re also developing proposals for learning communities, which will be associated with each of the new residence halls that we build. We are already receiving proposals from the faculty – one from the Bryan School to create a learning community focused on global entrepreneurship and sustainability. The investment in learning communities should contribute significantly to improvement in our retention and graduation rates.

Anything else, perhaps, I have not asked you that I should?

I think we’ve covered a lot. I know budget is on everyone’s minds. It’s difficult because of all the uncertainties. It’s pretty clear that we will be in a much more challenging situation next year. Things are beginning to improve in other states. We’re a little bit behind [in our state’s recovery] … So there will continue to be challenges. But UNCG is a remarkable community of dedicated faculty and staff, and we will weather the storm.

Interviewed by Mike Harris
Visual from an archive photo