UAF campus

The setting sun illuminates buildings on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus in April 2019.  

The group responsible for administering accreditation to the University of Alaska says they are concerned the university system is failing to meet accreditation standards with regard to governance and decision making processes.

In a two-page letter sent to university officials Thursday, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities urged the university system to work in better concert with one another as the current budgetary crisis is sorted out.

In the letter, NWCCU President Sonny Ramaswamy underscored the need for “a space for inclusive dialogue” as university leadership continue discussing how best to manage the budget cuts.

“NWCCU continues to assert the importance of the Board of Regents as an independent governing body, and respects that Board’s ultimate authority related to the structure and future structure of the University of Alaska System,” Ramaswamy wrote. “However, we also must assert the importance of an inclusive decision-making process that respects the tenets of shared governance in the process.”

The letter, addressed to UA President Jim Johnsen, Regent Chair John Davies, as well as the three university chancellors, was sent to the officials just days after the publication of a report on a February memo in which Johnsen instructed the chancellors not to speak independently of the Board of Regents amid continued budget discussions. 

“In this time of acute budgetary stress, please note that the Board has reserved a number of matters to itself, including the determination of budget requests and allocations, as well as what degree and certificate programs will be offered at each University,” the February memo reads. “Communications on such issues must be coordinated, must respect and preserve the Board’s prerogatives, and thus must be reviewed and approved by the president.”

The group officials issued a response to the agency letter Friday evening in which they vowed not to jeopardize accreditation. 

“We have been and will continue working closely with NWCCU, are following up with the Commission, and holding an emergency meeting of the Board to ensure that we are working together effectively and inclusively, with a clear understanding of our respective roles and responsibilities,” the officials wrote in a joint email.

Davies told the Associated Press he was concerned at the intensity of the letter.

“I know they’ve been a little bit concerned about the dialogue that’s going on, but to get a letter like this with some pretty harsh language in it is worrisome,” he said.

The agency has asked the three separately accredited institutions in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau to provide either a combined report or separate reports on efforts to make changes no later than Oct. 31.

The Board of Regents will likely hold its emergency meeting Wednesday, Davies said.

Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMPolitics. The Associated Press contributed to this report.