Need Budget Savings? UNC Centers and Institutes Deserve a Closer Look.
Where can budget writers find savings to help fund priorities such as teacher raises? That’s a question on everyone’s mind these days. In our opinion, a review of UNC Centers and Institutes might be a good place to start.
What are UNC Centers and Institutes? They are UNC-affiliated entities that address some of the most challenging research problems of the day. UNC Centers and Institutes provide the infrastructure and support services necessary to help scholars and scientists collaborate and produce their best work – or are supposed to.
Currently there are several hundred Centers and Institutes on UNC campuses. Many of them receive state funding. To review a listing of UNC Centers and Institutes and budget figures, click here.
A quick review of listing reveals several things. First, most centers and institutes focus on highly specialized areas of research. Second, the centers and institutes reflect a fair amount of duplication. There is an Institute for Marine Sciences (UNC-Chapel Hill) and a Center for Marine Sciences (UNC-Wilmington). East Carolina claims the Center for the Liberal Arts; UNC-Chapel Hill houses the Institute for the Arts and Humanities. The duplication seems to extend not only across campuses, but also within campuses. UNC-Chapel Hill is home to the Institute for African- American Research, the Sonja Hayes Stone Center for Black Culture, and the African Studies Center.
It’s fair to ask: Are these efforts duplicative? If so, are there justifiable reasons to finance multiple programs? In recent years, the state has been reducing its support for UNC Center and Institutes. In 2012-13, North Carolina still provided $72.3million to UNC Centers and Institutes. Last year (2013-14) the figure was reduced to $65.6 million. Last year state monies comprised about 11 percent of $576.7 million in total revenue for UNC Centers and Institutes.
While these entities can provide valuable research functions, they are also dependent on state appropriations, contracts, staff, facilities and other overhead costs. The McCrory administration has recommended a 20 percent cut in state funding for UNC Centers and Institutes. That translates to a budget reduction of $13.1 million. Gov. Pat McCrory based his recommendation on redundancy. Administration budget writers also note that many of the centers and institutes aren’t focused on degree production and have missions that are not central to the mission of the institution.
Budgets provide a good framework for lawmakers to use in their deliberations. Lawmakers should ask: Is the center or institute conducting timely, needed research ? Months before his retirement, UNC President Erskine Bowles acknowledged that many centers and institutes had outlived their original purpose. He welcomed a full review of all UNC Centers and Institutes. Is the Ergonomics Center of North Carolina still needed? Or the Center for Applied Aquatic Ecology? Or could North Carolina better spend the $474,000 and $489,000 respectively elsewhere?
However, the tough questions should also be asked of the larger centers and institutes as well. The James B. Hunt Institute for Educational Policy received $588,000 in state funds last year. The Institute for Emerging Issues received $750,000 from the state of North Carolina. The William and Ida Friday institute for Educational Innovation received $1.3 million in state funds last year. Many believe these institutes espouse a definite viewpoint that in reality the state should not support.
The McCrory Administration’s recommendation of a 20 percent budget reduction for UNC Centers and Institutes is a good place to start. Budget writers should ask: Does the Center or Institute perform needed research? What reasons justify continued investment? What benefits has the public received from its $65.6 million investment? A review of the current budget figures suggests additional budget savings are possible.