ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard addresses questions from local media about the impact on ECU of the recently announced UNC Board of Governors' budget cuts for UNC Institutions. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

BUDGET CUTS: Academic core will feel pain

By Mary Schulken
ECU Director of Public Affairs

East Carolina University’s top leadership told the campus community to expect a reshaped university as decisions about jobs and programs are made to absorb a 16 percent cut in state funding.

“Every part of the institution has been or will be affected,” said a message sent July 8 to faculty, staff and supporters and signed by Chancellor Steve Ballard and Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Rick Niswander. “The fiscal year that has just begun will not be easy; we will not be the university a year from now that we are today.”

The 2011-2012 budget passed by the NC General Assembly reduced state funds for the University of North Carolina system by $414 million, or about 15.6 percent. Those cuts came in response to a revenue shortfall accompanying the harshest economic times for North Carolina in 70 years.
ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard explained how the cuts would affect ECU.

The new budget law ordered that the reductions not be made across the board. Instead, the UNC system used six criteria to determine how to dole out the pain, taking into account differences among the campuses.

On July 7 the budget and finance committee of the UNC Board of Governors approved final allocations for the campuses, spelling out in detail the cuts each university will face.

ECU’s share totaled $49.1 million — 16 percent of its state budget.

The campus can expect to feel effects immediately and throughout the fiscal year as adjustment are made, said the budget message from Ballard and Niswander.
  • Students will help make up 25 percent of the cut by paying approximately $500 more in tuition and fees in the 2011-2012 academic year.

  • A quarter of the budget gap, plus $1 million, will be covered by funds set aside for that specific purpose — reserves earmarked for emergencies or disasters such as the catastrophic flooding from Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

  • Colleges and departments at East Carolina University will absorb or some $25.7 million, or about half, of the 16 percent cut.
Ballard said in a question and answer session with reporters on July 8 the size of the cut surprised him.

“The percentage was bigger than what we anticipated,” he said. “The $49 million figure is the biggest number we have had to deal with.”

Each college or department, he said, will have to cut at least 7 percent of its budget. The central academic core will see a 15 percent cut, he said.

While some of the specific cuts will be decided this summer, others will play out over the next academic year. Ballard appointed a committee earlier this year to come up with criteria for prioritizing programs and to suggest ways to consolidate academic units. A second committee is now evaluating programs and proposals with a timeline that calls for making a recommendation to the chancellor in April of 2012.
Ballard said the worse-than-hoped-for budget would not speed up that timeline.

“I want the committee to take its time and get it right, so I am expecting a report by early in 2012 that will be a big help in determining what we can do to reduce administrative expenses and how we can be more efficient and thereby protect key faculty and key programs,” he said.

The next year will be hard, Ballard and Niswander said in their budget message to the campus.

“ Unquestionably, losing $49.1 million will hurt. It will harm the student experience, reduce the chances for student success, cause some of our best faculty members to leave … and damage our mission of regional transformation,” they wrote.

Yet the ECU community should not lose sight of the impact the university has on the region and the state, the message said.

“Our new dental school is exactly on track as promised … Colleges and schools across our campus are enjoying success … we teach more undergraduates than any other UNC institution except North Carolina State,” Ballard and Niswander wrote.

“We are going to do everything we can to right size this university and maintain a high quality education,” Ballard told reporters.