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WCU awaits state budget, bemoans staff retention

Western Carolina University is sweating out the North Carolina General Assembly’s budgetary process, but perhaps not as much as some institutions of higher education.

“A lot of our sister institutions are facing significant budget reductions,” WCU Chancellor David Belcher said earlier this month as the school’s board of trustees gathered for a meeting. 

Like other universities in the UNC system, WCU is waiting to find out its financial forecast for the next year. But even if the state slashes funds flowing to public universities, the school in Cullowhee is buoyed by one thing: rising enrollment numbers.

“It’s not just nice to have enrollment growth, it’s absolutely imperative,” stressed Belcher. “It’s absolutely key.”

While university officials hope for the best as the budget is hashed out in Raleigh, and the additional revenue due to increased enrollment helps the school’s financial outlook, there is one issue that will take more than money to solve. Currently, North Carolina universities are not allowed to offer raises. When faculty members begin looking for higher pay, they have to look beyond their current post.

“We’re losing our people, they’re leaving us to go to other institutions in North Carolina,” Belcher told his trustees. “Connecticut is bragging in the newspaper about how many faculty members it’s stolen from Chapel Hill. That’s why salary is such a critical issue.”

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That point was driven home by Leroy Kaufman, associate professor of accounting and the chair-elect of the WCU’s Faculty Senate. He reported that faculty members found the lack of a raise in recent budget cycles to be “disenchanting, disheartening and discouraging.”

“It’s a concern with the faculty,” Kaufman said. “Basically, for the longer term faculty, the only way for them to get a raise is to go on the move.”

Robin Hitch, a computer consultant at Hunter Library and chair of WCU’s Staff Senate, had similar reports to offer to trustees. She relayed how one faculty member was moving to another university because he was unable to make more money in Cullowhee.

“Charlotte’s getting him. He’s getting, like, a 16 percent raise just leaving our university. It’s so sad that we can’t keep our faculty,” Hitch said. “It really is a great place to work and I wish we could keep more of our faculty and staff from leaving.”

— Jeremy Morrison, News Editor

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