Tom Ross: UNC System Teetering on the Edge
Outgoing UNC system President Tom Ross is sounding the alarm about the state of North Carolina's university system, which he says is 'teetering on the edge.'
The University of North Carolina became America’s first public university in 1789, and in the past several decades the state has built arguably the best public university system in the nation.
The credit largely goes to a legislature and Board of Governors that understood the value of higher education, and to presidents such as Frank Porter Graham, Bill Friday, Dick Spangler and others whose passion and leadership drove sustained excellence.
UNC’s reputation, combined with its low in-state tuition, help make it uncommonly attractive: A higher percentage of students stay in-state for college in North Carolina than in any other state.
The public investments in the university system have paid off many times over. North Carolina’s economic strength in the second half of the 20th century was due in no small part to the system’s superiority and creation of a well-educated populace.
Now, outgoing UNC President Tom Ross says, the system’s continued eminence is at risk. The state is spending 14 percent less per degree, even as the system produces 18 percent more graduates than it did five years ago. It faces increasing difficulty retaining faculty and staff. And politics permeates the board room.
“We have to decide what kind of state we want to be,” Ross told a group of Charlotte businessmen on Tuesday. “Do we want to be a state that has an excellent system of higher education, as we have had, that is really the beacon for the country?
“It’s the best public university system in the United States. I think that’s still true. But we are teetering on the edge and we have to pay attention if we want to maintain it. The stakes are high.”
Last year, when the legislature granted nearly all state employees $1,000 pay hikes, UNC system faculty were left out. They ended up getting a little more than $200. The legislature floats bills that micromanage professors. And Gov. Pat McCrory and others have shown disdain for a liberal arts education.
“Right now our faculty doesn’t feel valued,” Ross said.