Facing $6 Million Deficit, UNC Asheville to ‘Curtail’ Adjunct Faculty, Look at ‘Entire University Enterprise’

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Written by Barbara Durr, Asheville Watchdog.

The University of North Carolina Asheville faces a $6 million deficit that must be closed by June 30 and will “curtail” adjunct faculty as it seeks ways to cut costs, Chancellor Kimberly van Noort recently announced to faculty, staff, and students.

Van Noort, who was named chancellor in November after serving as the university’s interim chancellor since Jan. 1, 2023, said in a briefing for faculty and staff that urgent measures were needed to close the budget deficit by the end of June, which marks the close of the school’s fiscal year.

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“We need to get our house in order financially” van Noort said, and promised to “look at the entire university enterprise” including academic offerings. “Possible academic program curtailment is not off the table.”

Van Noort has imposed a freeze on new hires, travel, and expenditures.

The deficit has been driven by a 25 percent decline in enrollment over the last five years. If steps are not taken, the deficit will balloon to $8 million next year, she said.

Adjunct faculty compose more than 20 percent of the university’s teaching staff. Some lecturers also may be laid off.

Over recent years, as income decreased from tuition and state support, which is tied to enrollment, “we did nothing” to address expenditures, van Noort said.

“Are we in what is called financial exigency?” she said. “No, we are not. This is not an existential crisis. But we are addressing it now before it becomes one.”

In addition to adjunct teaching staff, lecturers with time-limited contracts may also face layoffs. Last year, lecturers composed 26 percent of the full-time teaching staff of 219.

Sam Beichler, a senior in environmental studies, said, “No student is going to be happy losing that many staff.”

Alex Rivera, a senior in anthropology and president of the Students for a Democratic Society, said, “We love our adjuncts. They’re also the worst paid professors on campus. They don’t even have health insurance.”

Van Noort pledged to consult with faculty on potential academic cuts. UNC Greensboro, which also faced a decline in enrollment— though a lesser one than UNCA – recently cut 20 academic programs. Students and faculty there protested about the process of decision-making and the final choice on what to cut.

UNCA students, concerned about the reduction in teaching staff, protested outside the chancellor’s Tuesday briefing for faculty and staff in the Blue Ridge Room of the Highsmith Student Union, and students lined the back of the hall where the chancellor spoke. One yelled, “You should be ashamed of yourself, those are people’s jobs!”

Van Noort wrote to students immediately after the briefing, saying, “I want to assure you that the difficult decisions we must make in the coming weeks will be done with a central focus on maintaining the strength of the student experience.”

UNCA student Addison Wright contributed to this report.

Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and surrounding communities.  Barbara Durr is a former correspondent for The Financial Times of London. Contact her at [email protected]. To show your support for this vital public service go to avlwatchdog.org/donate.