UNC Asheville Chancellor Perks: Free Housing, Country Club Memberships, Car Allowance

Starr Sariego, Asheville Watchdog

Written by Sally Kestin and Addison Wright, Asheville Watchdog.

Professors have been laid off and academic programs may soon be cut, but the perks that come with the chancellor’s job at the University of North Carolina Asheville remain intact: free housing and utilities, country club memberships, bonuses, and a car allowance.

The benefits come on top of Chancellor Kimberly van Noort’s $300,000 annual base salary. She receives housing in the chancellor’s residence, membership in a golf club with access to 16 courses in the Southeast, including the Country Club of Asheville, and a $900 monthly car allowance. Beginning next fiscal year, she’ll be eligible for “incentive compensation” of up to 100 percent of her salary, as much as $300,000.

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While not unusual for university presidents, the perks are drawing criticism from some faculty and students as UNCA examines cuts to staff and programs to eliminate a $6 million deficit. In April, the school abruptly dismissed 12 staffers and previously put adjunct professors on notice that their contracts would not be renewed for the next academic year.

“I definitely feel as if budget cuts are happening, the chancellor shouldn’t be excluded from having her salary cut,” said Nashanti Best, a senior majoring in political science. “It would just be fair.”

Abbie Stabosz, a 2024 graduate in environmental science, said she was surprised to learn of the chancellor’s benefits.

“She should be able to pay for some of those things out of her salary,” Stabosz said. “I do believe at least some bonuses and privileges should be cut for now, especially since they decided to cut so many staff members.

“The car allowance and other privileges allocated for the chancellor seem less important than all of those people’s literal livelihoods.”

A UNCA professor who asked not be identified for fear of retribution said that while van Noort’s salary is not unreasonable for the position, “some of the fringe benefits the chancellor receives seem a bit frivolous and tone-deaf given the current situation, especially when every other non-mission critical spending has been frozen.”

“As a gesture of shared sacrifice, the chancellor could have easily announced that she is returning, say the country club membership benefit, to help alleviate the financial burden on the university.”

Asked whether the university had considered reducing or eliminating any of the chancellor’s benefits, UNCA spokesman Michael Strysick pointed to the university’s Asheville 2030 FAQ pagethat includes a question about whether salary reductions for top-paid employees could help prevent layoffs.

The response: “All UNC Asheville salaries are based on market rates and ranges determined at the UNC System. While these options have been discussed, they are not deemed a sustainable, long-term strategy or solution to address the current challenges.”

Current and former faculty interviewed by The Watchdog said UNCA has grown top-heavy with high-paid administrators, a sore point as van Noort examines which academic programs and departments to cut.

Besides the chancellor, UNCA has 23 employees making $125,000 or more, most of them administrators, and two of those earn more than $200,000 a year, according to the UNC System salary database. Vice Chancellors Meghan Harte Weyant and Kirk Swenson receive salaries of $205,592 and $242,729 respectively, according to the database.

Yvonne Villanueva-Russell starts July 1 as provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. She will receive a $225,000 salary, a $15,000 signing bonus, and be eligible for “performance-based bonus compensation,” according to her appointment letter.

Housing, car, country clubs

Van Noort was hired as UNCA’s ninth chancellor in November 2023. She previously was senior vice president for academic affairs and chief academic officer for the UNC System Office, a job that paid $375,126.

Strysick noted that she took a 20 percent pay cut in salary to become UNCA chancellor. “In addition, her charitable contributions to the University to date represent approximately 5 percent of her new base salary,” he said.

Strysick did not respond to a question about whether van Noort’s previous job included housing or a car allowance.

Van Noort lives rent-free on campus in the Janice W. Brumit Pisgah House, a $2.9-million building funded by private donations that hosts university-sponsored dinners, receptions and events, and has served as the chancellor’s residence since 2010.

“All UNC System chancellors are required to live in an official residence provided to them,” Strysick said.

The university also pays for “utilities, maintenance, housekeeping, and groundskeeping services,” according to van Noort’s appointment letter. For the first four months of 2024, the utilities cost $3,193, Strysick said.

The university also paid $3,458 for a security system, $13,754 for a heat pump, and $1,991 for “private property signage,” he said.

UNCA agreed to provide van Noort an automobile or a monthly vehicle allowance of up to $900, according to her appointment letter.

“Chancellor van Noort receives the same car allowance as her predecessor,” Strysick said. “However, she does not receive mileage or gas reimbursements for the approximately 8,000 miles she travels on university business per year.”

Asked if her other benefits were consistent with previous chancellors’, Strysick said van Noort had “limited knowledge of the compensation packages of her predecessors.”

The Watchdog requested employment documents for the two chancellors before van Noort from the UNC System Office but had not received a response by deadline.

Van Noort’s appointment letter said UNCA would provide “a membership in one or more appropriate clubs for conducting the official business of the university.”

UNCA pays for a membership to McConnell Golf, owner of 16 courses and “premier country clubs” in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, including the Country Club of Asheville. Members enjoy “family-friendly aquatics, modern fitness centers, tailored event offerings, on-site accommodations, tennis complexes and much more!” according to the McConnell website.

UNCA pays $520 a month for the membership and reimburses van Noort for food “only if for business purposes,” Strysick said.

Van Noort received a one-time payment of $15,000 for relocation expenses. Any raises or other changes to her base salary, other than increases dictated by law, “will be determined by the Board of Governors upon recommendation of the president,” and she is eligible for the “Chancellors’ Incentive Compensation Program” after a year of service, the letter said.

Van Noort became UNCA’s interim chancellor in January 2023, and her time in that role can count toward the one-year requirement for incentive compensation, but Strysick said she will not be eligible for any until next fiscal year.

Van Noort’s performance will be evaluated by the president, the letter said. Strysick said UNCA could not provide any performance evaluation because it did not “maintain this record.”

“Even if we did, it would be considered confidential personnel information,” he said.

Van Noort is eligible to participate in a retirement program for senior administrators after a year of service and upon approval by the UNCA Board of Trustees, the appointment letter said. The program includes a contribution by the university of up to 10 percent of her prior year’s ending salary plus any incentive pay.

Strysick pointed to a survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education of pay and benefits of chief executives at 195 public universities and systems as of 2022 that found total pay ranged from $26,520 to $2.5 million. All but 15 executives made $300,000 or more.

Chancellor’s perks justified, defenders say

Van Noort’s base salary is the lowest of 15 chancellors in the UNC System whose pay is listed in the state salary database, last updated March 31. A 16th school, Winston-Salem State University, was not included because the chancellor’s position was unfilled at the time.

UNCA has the third smallest enrollment of the 16 universities.

Winston-Salem faced a $3 million deficit as of last month and recently hired a chancellor, who starts July 1. Officials with that university directed questions about the new chancellor’s compensation and benefits to the UNC System Office, which did not respond by deadline.

At Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, considered a competitor of UNCA, Chancellor Kelli R. Brown receives a salary of $359,575, a 2019 Toyota Highlander, and membership in the Biltmore Forest Country Club “valued at $7,500 per year,” said Shea Browning, the university’s general counsel. WCU had 11,628 students in 2023, compared to UNCA’s 2,925.

Dylan McBridewood, a 2024 UNCAgraduate in economics, called van Noort’s salary reasonable, and if anything, “on the low side.”

“At the end of the day, the university needs to offer competitive compensation to attract and retain talented leadership,” McBridewood said.

He said van Noort is not to blame for the university’s budget shortfall, which is largely the result of declining enrollment that is plaguing liberal arts universities nationwide.

“While it would be commendable if she voluntarily took a pay cut as a gesture of solidarity, it shouldn’t be expected,” McBridewood said. “In the corporate world, executives brought in to turn around struggling companies are not typically expected to take salary cuts; instead, they are valued for their strategic leadership aimed at achieving long-term sustainability.”

Patrick Bahls, a former UNCA mathematics professor who left in July 2022, said van Noort’s salary “seems in line with past chancellors.”

“I will say that the chancellor’s schedule (and, by extension, her life) is not truly her own, with almost every waking minute scheduled for this, that, or the other meeting, PR event, etc.,” he said. “The chancellor works hard and is responsible for making major decisions.”

Bahls said UNCA faculty generally were more concerned that their salaries had “remained stagnant over the past 10 to 20 years” while the university hired more mid-level administrators “who often make more than faculty and whose roles are nebulous or at least indiscernible to outsiders.”

Bahls said he took a job at the Savannah College of Art & Design and gave up tenure and full professorship at UNCA.

“I couldn’t be happier,” he said. “For the first time in almost 20 years, I’m employed by an institution that materially and meaningfully demonstrates appreciation for its employees’ time and efforts.”

Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Sally Kestin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter. Email [email protected]. Addison Wright graduated in May from UNCA, where she majored in mass communications and political science. She served as news editor for The Blue Banner, UNCA’s school newspaper. The Watchdog’s reporting is made possible by donations from the community. To show your support for this vital public service go to avlwatchdog.org/donate.