Posted: Friday, September 13, 2013 10:30 am
You all have heard of the University of Virginia, right? Founded by Thomas Jefferson? Virginia’s flagship school? One of the best public (emphasis mine; we’ll get to that in a bit) universities in the nation?
Guess how much of UVa’s budget comes from the commonwealth of Virginia? Half? A quarter?
You’re way too high. Here it is: It’s 6 percent.
Wrap your head around that. 6 percent.That’s just about zero.
That’s why UVa is talking about the idea of going … well, not exactly private, but non-public. Here’s a story from the Washington Post via the Richmond paper that outlines what’s going on. To see the report referenced in the story, go to UVa’s strategic planning site and click on “Document Library.” (You want the report entitled “Emergent Ideas of the Public University Working Group.” Or just click here (.pdf).)
UVa seems to be making two cases here. On one hand, the university remains a good investment for the state in terms of money brought in and students and businesses recruited. On the other, the state isn’t spending enough money to justify being able to call the shots. (I thought the “Need for professional board members” was the snarkiest part of the document. It’s not like corporate boards are particularly sharp, but they’re probably better than having political donors running things.)
It’s a fascinating discussion — and one that North Carolina ought to be having, too. North Carolina continues to spend more on its college system than Virginia and most other states. But that state support is declining. UNC-Chapel Hill, for instance, gets just 20 percent of its annual budget from Raleigh. UNCG is in the 40 percent range. (That’s back-of-the-envelope math. I suspect a lot of UNC schools are higher than that, especially the ones that don’t pull in much research money.)
As the General Assembly cut its higher education budget this year, lawmakers seemed more interested in colleges. College presidents and their police chiefs were appalled that one of the new laws allows concealed weapons in cars on campus. After UNC-CH approved opposite sex dorm options to help out gay and transgender students, the Board of Governors squashed it out of fear the legislature might write a ban into state law. Another new state law allows students to take lawyers with them into disciplinary hearings. (That’s a boon for students, but UNC administrators opposed it.) Still another requires most UNC schools to raise out-of-state tuition next year. (That was shot fired across the bow of both the Board of Governors and the trustee boards at all the UNC schools.)
The legislature is playing a dangerous game by cutting UNC money with one hand and trying to control more things with the other. Ultimately it figures it will win this game — it’s the legislature, after all, and it still writes the rules. Even UVa President Teresa Sullivan bent over backwards to say that the university is merely thinking out loud here and has every intention of remaining a state-supported institution even if the state’s support comes down to a few nickels and a stale corn chip found under the sofa cushions of a third-floor dorm lounge at Virginia Tech.
UNC-CH is in no position to spin itself off from the university system because it has no way to replace 20 percent of its budget. But we’re not far from the day when the state’s share of the UNC-CH operating budget slips to 15 percent and then 10 percent and then to UVa’s 6 percent.
UVa has been talking about this concept of a public-yet-not-public university for about a decade, and during that time state support for UVa has continued to erode. The exact same thing is happening here. When will North Carolina start its own discussion?