The Senate State Affairs Committee is holding what has been categorized as an “unusual” hearing on the University of Alaska restructuring Friday afternoon in Anchorage. But the hearing’s speakers list features only Anchorage faculty and community members, leaving Fairbanks and Juneau campus members out of the conversation.
North Pole Republican Sen. John Coghill, who serves as vice-chair of the Senate State Affairs Committee, noted how unusual the committee choice was for a hearing of this nature.
“This is not typical. It’s actually extraordinary. They actually had to ask the Education Committee for permission to do this,” Coghill said. “This group, called the Senate faculty, probably ask to have it scheduled. They’ve been very vocal and active here in the Anchorage area. For me, I’m just going to take it as credible opinion, but it will be in my view more subservient to the board of regents. Either way, it will serve as good background perspective.”
Fairbanks Democratic Sen. Scott Kawasaki, one of two Fairbanks-area members of the committee, told the Daily News-Miner on Wednesday he is out of town on personal business and will not be able to attend the hearing in person.
“I didn’t really know what to expect when the chairman said we’re going to hear from folks about this university proposal,” Kawasaki said. “I assumed there would be university officials there, not just Anchorage faculty and community members.”
Kawasaki said that, as far as he knows, it was the idea of Sen. Mike Shower, R-Anchorage, chair of the Senate State Affairs Committee, to hear the presentation.
“This doesn’t seem like this is in the purview of the State Affairs Committee, maybe the Education Committee,” he added.
Kawasaki said he had reached out to Democratic colleagues on both the House and Senate Budget Writing committees to encourage an inclusive statewide perspective.
“It’s a little disappointing that this isn’t an all-encompassing conversation about how these changes stand to affect all campuses and the university across the state but I guess we’ll see how it goes,” Kawasaki said.
Joel Potter, a philosophy professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, emailed the UA Board of Regents on Wednesday to inform them of the meeting.
“I and many of those giving testimony will offer arguments for why legislative action is needed in order to decentralize the University of Alaska system,” Potter wrote. “Some of the versions of decentralization we propose for consideration require legislation and this is why we seek to make a case for these options before members of the Legislature. Many of us believe that not only would some form of decentralization lead to better management and governance of UAF, UAA and UAS, we also believe that the options we propose may help to address the current fiscal crisis.”
The list of witnesses who will attend the meeting include Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, two members of the Anchorage assembly and more than a dozen UAA faculty members.
No such hearings have been scheduled for Fairbanks or Juneau, Coghill said.
“I think this may be more politically motivated than academically motivated,” Coghill said Thursday afternoon. “It’s very unusual.”
Shower did not respond to a request for comment on the hearing.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter:@FDNMPolitics.