CHAPEL HILL – UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp is stepping down from his post in June after five years on the job—leaving incoming Chancellor Carol Folt with the unenviable task of guiding the university through a time of continued challenges, sparked primarily by ongoing state-level cuts.

As the Chapel Hill community prepares for the transition, local residents and University leaders alike say they’re concerned about the future.

“We’re at an extraordinary time,” says the Word Factory’s Margot Lester. “It sort of feels to me that we’re almost under siege.”

Torin Martinez of UNC Health Care agrees. “I feel there’s an attack on public education in Raleigh,” he says.

Lester and Martinez made those comments on a panel about the future of UNC after Holden Thorp at WCHL’s annual Community Forum on Thursday.

And they weren’t alone: Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt had even stronger words for the General Assembly.

“They’re being led by their gut, by these outside agencies like ALEC…and they’re just bleating sheep,” he says. “They just kind of go and enact this agenda that is at odds with the future–not only of our university and cities, but this state. And as they continue to infect legislators across the country, it puts our whole nation at risk.”

On campus, UNC student body president Christy Lambden says the state-mandated tuition hike for out-of-state students is already having a profound and widespread impact.

“People are incredibly nervous,” he says. “The number of people I have coming into my office and saying ‘look, I don’t know how I’m going to come back to school next year if we do see these increases’…I’m having it happen to me at least once a day…and as a student representative, that hurts every time it happens…

“And I know that that is hurting Chapel Hill, in terms of not just the people who may not be able to come back to this university, but every single student on that campus who’s going to be affected due to the lack of diversity and the decrease in the quality of students that we are getting to campus–and as such, the decrease in the quality of the academics that we have on campus.”

And former UNC chancellor James Moeser says he’s concerned that legislators seem to have no intention of keeping that tuition money on campus—nor do they seem to be interested in using those funds to help needy students, as they have in the past.

“We have taken it as a principle that we would set aside up to 40 percent of every tuition increase, to hold harmless the impacts of those increases on needy students,” he says. “That premise is now being called into question, openly.”

But while many local residents are despairing about UNC’s future, both Moeser and UNC faculty chair Jan Boxill say they remain optimistic.

“One of my mantras when I took over as faculty chair is that we all have to work together,” Boxill says, “so I think (it’s about) looking at what we can do to help them, as well as what they can do to help us.”

Moeser agrees. “North Carolina is a state, we have to remind ourselves, that elected Jim Hunt and Jesse Helms at the same time,” he says. “We are truly a purple state. But underlying it is a state of goodness and decency–and ultimately, I think, that will prevail.”

Carol Folt will take over as chancellor on July 1. She comes to UNC after 30 years on the faculty at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, most recently in the roles of provost and interim president.

Click here to listen to the full audio from WCHL’s Community Forum.