UA Board of Regents Meeting

UA President Jim Johnsen, left, listens to comments being made via videoconference during a special University of Alaska Board of Regents meeting to consider declaration of financial exigency Monday afternoon, July 15, 2019, in the UAF Butrovich Building. On July 22, 2019, university leadership declared exigency. The big question everyone is asking now is what will happen to the university system.

The University of Alaska Board of Regents has decided to table the idea of consolidating a single-accredited university until 2021 with the idea that the University of Alaska Fairbanks should secure its accreditation before any more large scale changes are made to the university system’s structure.

The decision was made during an emergency board meeting Monday morning in Fairbanks. Regents followed up by also suspending the statewide academic program review currently underway until regents can consult with chancellors and UA President Jim Johnsen on a path forward.

The first motion was passed 9-2 with Regents Dale Anderson and Mary Hughes dissenting. The second motion passed 9-1 with Regent Andy Teuber absent and Anderson as the sole dissenting vote.

The emergency Monday meeting was called last week in response to a recent communication from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities warning university leadership to improve governance, communication and decision-making processes to adhere to accreditation standards. Regents discussed necessary shifts in communication and governance to create a “more inclusive” decision-making process as the university continues to grapple with large-scale budget cuts handed down from Gov. Mike Dunleavy earlier this year.

Much of the discussion prior to more than an hour-long executive session revolved around whether the university had gone too far in responding to the budget cut with sweeping motions to consolidate into a single university, a process that was allegedly put on hold weeks ago as faculty and students spoke out against what they claimed was a lack of consideration for other cost-saving options.

But after discussing feedback from students, staff and faculty, the regents decided to take a step back on what some considered to be a fast-track to consolidation, putting a pin in the path toward consolidation and shifting focus toward the ideas 

For some, the time to include students and faculty in the process is long past due. 

“The students feel strongly that we are not thriving,” Student Regent Cachet Garrett said. “Students are expressing they feel we are indeed at the tipping point.”

Garrett became emotional while stating that, from the feedback she’s been receiving, students are losing faith in the regents.

Tensions were high during the meeting as Garrett moved to allow three representatives from the University of Alaska Fairbanks student government to speak with the NWCCU officials. Regents Chair John Davies pushed against the request, clarifying that the meeting was designed for regents to speak with accreditation officials. Garrett countered that allowing the students to speak reflected a recent vow to create a more inclusive process. Ultimately, the three students were allowed a short time to share their concerns with both the board and the accreditation officials. 

The meeting was held amid growing discontent among university faculty, with the University of Alaska Anchorage Faculty Senate passing a resolution Friday expressing no confidence in UA President Jim Johnsen’s leadership. The UAF Faculty Senate is not taken a position either way on the matter. 

Bernard Aoto, president of the Associated Students of UAF, called the motions cancelling consolidation a step in the right direction.

“I think it’s something that we’ve been asking for and the fact that the Regents made these motions and passed them shows us that they are listening,” Aoto said. “I’m just hoping that they follow up with action afterwards and that they don’t just use these motions as a lip service, that they truly mean what they’re saying and that they’re backing it up with coming and listening to us.”

The ASUAF will hold a public student forum in the Wood Center Ballroom at 1 p.m. Tuesday to discuss this and other topics pertaining to student related policy on campus.  

Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.