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 will meet in Anchorage on Tuesday to discuss two possible options for restructuring the university system in an effort to accommodate a cut of more than $130 million in state funding from Gov. Mike Dunleavy. 

The regents declared financial exigency last week; a declaration that indicates the university is in such a dire fiscal situation that it cannot continue in a similar structure or function at the same levels. It allows university administrators to send layoff notices to tenured faculty and enact budget-reduction measures in a more immediate manner than they would be able to otherwise.

Rather than immediate closures of campuses or programs, it appears as though university administration will try to cut costs through structural changes, of which two options were presented to the board of regents by UA President Jim Johnsen this week. 

In an email obtained by the Daily News-Miner, Johnsen outlined his plan to university faculty.

“After thoughtful discussion, the board directed me to work with the chancellors and academic leadership to prepare high level plans for restructuring the university,” Johnsen wrote in the Monday email to faculty members.

The first is a lead campus option that would involve designating a lead campus for individual areas of focus. Under this plan, each campus would be handed a required proportional cut to absorb and would need to consolidate down to its “core” specialty in the hopes of eliminating “duplicative” courses and programs.  

The second would consolidate the current three separately accredited universities in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau into one single accredited university system with individual colleges for each area of study. This plan would likely consolidate individual administration at each current university such as chancellors and deans.

Johnsen will present more information on each plan to the board Tuesday. 

Regents will select a plan and decide on specific program cut proposals at their next full board meeting in Juneau on Sept. 12-13.

After deciding on program cuts in September, notices to any affected faculty and staff would be distributed soon after, according to a Monday release from the university. 

As of right now, however, there are no plans to alter academics and fall schedule will continue “as planned,” according to Regent Chair John Davies.

The board will be accepting public comment on the two plans up until its September meeting. Written testimony can be emailed to ua-bor@alaska.edu.

As noted in a video statement released by Johnsen on Tuesday afternoon, state funding for the university remains in question as the Legislature continues debate on the capital budget and a permanent fund dividend appropriation bill that could possibly restore some of the cut funding. While those elements are left unknown though, Johnsen said the university will proceed as if the cuts will hold.

In a discussion with reporters Thursday, Dunleavy said his team has been “in discussions” with the university to try to find “compromise” moving forward. 

The governor’s office released a proposal Friday that would split the suggested $132 million cut in state funding over two years with specific suggested areas for the cuts. The Office of Management and Budget will present the plan to the Board of Regents on Tuesday. 

The Tuesday meeting, which begins at 9 a.m., will be livestreamed at www.alaska.edu/bor/live.

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

Correction: Tuesday's meeting will be held in Anchorage, not Juneau, as was stated in previous versions of this story.