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.

The University of Alaska Board of Regents approved a motion Friday that expands their consideration outside the single-accredited university model that has been facing backlash over the past few weeks. 

UA President Jim Johnsen floated the “New UA” model that would consolidate the three separately accredited universities in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau into a single-accredited institution in an effort to bring costs down and absorb a $70 million budget cut from Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

The $70 million cut will be stretched over the next three years but still leave UA with $25 million in reductions to achieve this fiscal year, which began July 1. 

Some regents appeared to agree with Johnsen on the path toward a single university, and leaders in the Alaska House and Senate sent a letter to regents this week urging them to move quickly. But the plan has faced severe pushback from faculty, students and community members, with two recent public meetings on the matter hearing nearly unanimous testimony against the consolidation. 

Regents met Thursday to hear testimony regarding the consolidation plan, feedback that lasted well over the two hours allotted and almost entirely criticized the seemingly fast-tracked approach to consolidation. 

During the second of a two-day meeting in Anchorage on Friday, regents added language to a motion that was approved unanimously in July to include other university models that may achieve the same cost savings.

The July motion had charged university officials with considering a plan to consolidate into a single university. Now, with the new language, the motion urges university leaders to “prepare options for university structure for board consideration that includes single and multiple institution accreditation.”

Kodiak Regent Andy Teuber introduced the language change Thursday, noting if the university is to keep with its “students first” mission, then students must be listened to.

“The students come first, and if the students are imploring us not to drive quickly to a one-university model or a single-accreditation model, we should be responsive and attentive to that,” he said. “We should be mindful of the time frame we’re in. We just suffered the trauma of the risk of a $136 million cut. ... Let us catch our breath for a moment and ensure that we’re not going to drive in a direction that will continue this trauma.”

A 5% tuition increase was also proposed for next academic year and then again the year after. The proposal will be reviewed before the next board meeting.

Regents meet again in November in Fairbanks to hear the results of a series of program reviews and to continue discussions regarding university structure.

Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter.com/FDNMpolitics