UA Jim Johnsen Press Conference

UA President Jim Johnsen holds a press conference to address Gov. Dunleavy's budget cuts to the university Wednesday afternoon, July 10, 2019 in the UAF Butrovich Building.

With the likelihood that Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s operating budget vetoes will stick, University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen has announced his plan to declare financial exigency 

House and Senate members in Juneau met for technical sessions Friday morning but quickly adjourned until Wednesday, eliminating any chances of an overturn of Dunleavy’s $130 million veto to state funding for the university. This has prompted the UA Board of Regents to call a special meeting for Monday to discuss massive cost reductions across the university system. Along with the Legislature’s previously proposed cut, the university will face a 41% reduction in state funding from the last fiscal year, or approximately $136 million less in state support. 

Johnsen will present his declaration of financial exigency to the regents on Monday and according to a release from the university Friday morning, support of the declaration is anticipated.

Johnsen released a statement Friday expressing his dismay at having to take this action.

“This declaration reflects a sharp turning point,” Johnsen said. “Financial exigency is an action I never anticipated that this great university or its regents would need to take. But every day we delay increases the size of the cuts required.”

Financial exigency designates that the university is in such a fiscal situation that it cannot continue in a similar structure or with the same level of function. It allows university administration to distribute layoff notices to tenured faculty and enact budget reduction measures in a more immediate manner than they would be able to otherwise.

Johnsen has told reporters on multiple occasions that cuts of this magnitude will likely result in not only more than a thousand fewer positions and likely a multiple of program discontinuations, but also the probability of whole campus closures. Whether that includes both rural satellite campuses as well as main campuses in Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks, remains uncertain.

At the request of the Legislature, Regent Chair John Davies compiled a task force last month to look into possible restructuring of the university system in an effort reduce spending. The task force met for the first time Friday during which they dug into four restructuring possibilities.

According to University of Alaska Fairbanks Faculty Senate President-Elect Sine Anahita, the group took a straw poll to look into four options: keep the status quo and approach cost reductions as such; shift to a lead campus model to include statewide positions; move to a single accredited university with statewide positions; or disperse into three autonomous universities with no connected statewide department. 

Task force members identified the single accredited university with statewide model to be the top choice, with the lead campus model coming in second. 

Regents also plan to discuss university structure options Monday and have scheduled another meeting for July 30 to continue that discussion. 

This is not the first time the university has been forced to declare financial exigency. A declaration was issued in 1986 following a previous round of intense cuts in state funding. However, the declaration never went into effect after university officials were able to negotiate funding levels with then-Gov. Bill Sheffield. 

The board’s Monday meeting will be held from 1-3 p.m. in room 204 of the Butrovich Building on the University of Alaska campus.

The meeting will be livestreamed at www.alaska.edu/bor/live.

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