Dear Commons Community,
In a deep financial crisis, the University of Alaska is desperately trying to find the wherewithal to manage a $136 million state budget cut. One of the serious considerations is to consolidate the system’s three separately accredited universities in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau, along with their 13 community campuses, and combine them into one accredited university. As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education:
“Each day that goes by without a cost-slashing plan deepens the financial crisis facing the University of Alaska. But deciding where to cut, and when, has become an agonizing ordeal for university regents who met on Tuesday to hash out dueling options.
Whatever they do, they’ll have to do it fast, the system’s president, James R. Johnsen, told regents. With a sweep of his budget pen, the state’s governor, Michael J. Dunleavy, cut $130 million from the university’s state budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. Combined with legislative cuts, the university lost $136 million, or 41 percent of its state budget and 17 percent of its budget over all.
“The board has to decide whether its house is on fire or whether it’s just toast burning,” Johnsen told regents. “In my view,” he added, “our house is on fire.”
Responding to that sense of urgency, the board, after a nearly seven-hour meeting, voted 8 to 3 to authorize Johnsen to begin cutting administrative costs immediately and to start working up a plan for further consolidations. The approach Johnsen and state lawmakers support would take the system’s three separately accredited universities in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau, along with their 13 community campuses, and combine them into one accredited university.
The board stopped short of endorsing any of the specific models of consolidation the president proposed, but authorized him to draw up a plan for a single-university approach. The board will meet again in September to vote on which cost-cutting option to take.
An alternative to the one-university plan would divvy up the cuts among the three universities and the central administration. The system’s three chancellors proposed a variation of that option during Tuesday’s meeting — a cooperative model that calls for the three to maintain separate identities but work behind the scenes to streamline academic offerings and reduce administrative costs.
Then there’s the option that Dunleavy unexpectedly threw onto the table on Friday. Faced with a fierce backlash over his cuts, Dunleavy said he wanted to “soften the blow” by spreading them out over two years instead of one.
The offer came with a catch; regents would have to cut the programs his administration targeted — a demand the university’s accreditor warned was an inappropriate meddling in university governance.”
We wish our colleagues in Alaska well as they weather this fiscal storm.