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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Are lawmakers' cuts to University of North Carolina system unconstitutional?

Posted By on Tue, May 24, 2011 at 12:45 PM

It’s funny sometimes how easy it is to lose sight of the basics. Case in point is the current strangling of the University of North Carolina system by the new GOP majority in the General Assembly. It’s a basic assumption of civilization: Education and knowledge are the most critical elements for having a thriving nation and culture. The state's New Bosses, however, either don’t know about that or couldn’t care less. The House’s budget cuts almost $472 million from the university system, a 15-percent reduction, while the Senate proposes a 12-percent reduction. Those kinds of cuts won’t just “trim the fat”; they will be as dramatic a change to our university system as we’ve seen in our lifetimes. Educators say the cuts would cost 3,200 jobs, including about one of every 10 full-time faculty positions.

The cuts also include drastic reductions in the state’s contribution to the UNC system’s successful need-based grants program for in-state students. As NC Policy Watch reports, the U.S., which was once a leader in the number of adults with a college degree, now ranks 12th out of 36 developed countries. For the New Bosses, however, again, that doesn’t seem to matter. Well, here’s something that should matter — to politicians, journalists, and regular citizens — and it fits right into that whole “basics” thing we mentioned. It’s called the North Carolina Constitution — specifically, Article IX, Sections 8 and 9. Here’s the relevant text:

Sec. 8.  The General Assembly shall maintain a public system of higher education, comprising The University of North Carolina and such other institutions of higher education as the General Assembly may deem wise. . .

Sec. 9. The General Assembly shall provide that the benefits of The University of North Carolina and other public institutions of higher education, as far as practicable, be extended to the people of the State free of expense.

“Free of expense”?! OK, the state probably cannot afford to educate all the people of N.C. for free, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that the New Bosses’ policies, which will result in a combination of higher prices and fewer students, is in 180-degree opposition to both the letter and the spirit of the state’s constitution. Maybe the Tea Party faithful who took over the state legislature need to look into respecting the state’s “Founding Fathers” as much as they claim to respect the nation’s founders.

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