UNC's Northeast campus gets reprieve
Closing or combining one or more of the 17 campuses of the University of North Carolina System is a hot-button issue that state education and political have avoided for many years. But some of the Republicans running the state legislature want to make it happen because they question whether the state can afford to keep so many campuses afloat.
Last week's action at the General Assembly again showed the complexity of higher education politics in North Carolina.
Senate Republicans included a measure in the proposed state budget to study closing any campus that has lost 30% or more of its enrollment between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2013 and issue a report to the General Assembly next year. The measure was made public May 29. The Senate voted down the plan a day later after an outcry from the Legislative Black Caucus.
Only one institution fit that bill – Elizabeth City State University, which of course happens to be the sole public four-year institution in northeast North Carolina, the state’s most economically troubled region. The area needs to improve its education system – from kindergarten to the state university– as much as any place in the state, but lacks the private resources to make that happen. The university has an endowment of $5 million.
ECSU is a Historically Black University, which would make its closing particularly difficult because many North Carolina African-Americans have a passionate interest in protecting HBUs, for obvious historic reasons.
Dissolving the university would leave a vast area of the state without a public four-year university. (Take time to read this terrific Business North Carolina story on the troubled Northeast region).
The region also has much less political influence after the departure of former Senate Pro Tem Marc Basnight, the Manteo Democrat who was among Raleigh’s most powerful lawmakers for more than a decade, before the Republican takeover in 2012.
Lest there be any doubt on who pushed this effort, the 32-member UNC Board of Governors has not discussed potential campus closings or mergers at any recent meetings, says Joni Worthington, spokeswoman for the System. The group did not meet in May.
The ECSU Board of Trustees received no notice that such a plan was in the offing, said Chairman Abdul Rasheed. He said no N.C. senator had taken responsibility for including the measure in the budget bill. He said UNC System President Tom Ross has said no board members is supporting the closure of ECSU. It would be shortsighted for the state to close an institution that is vitally important for its distressed region, Rasheed said.
Rasheed was the first person in his family to attend college, a typical story for students at ECSU, he said. He is CEO of the Raleigh-based N.C. Community Development Initiative, which promotes economic development in low-income areas.
Here's the ECSU Chancellor's comment on the issue.