University of Alaska Board of Regents chairman John Davies announced appointments Monday to a new task force that will investigate possible changes to the university structure in an attempt to mitigate anticipated budget cuts.
The state House approved budget language in April urging the Board of Regents to look into possible structural changes, but this is not a new concept for the university. A concept considered before by former University of Alaska Fairbanks Chancellor Dana Thomas, possible changes could include changing the UA system from three separately accredited universities to one single accredited university with consolidated leadership.
Thomas headed a study in 2016 analyzing the possible benefits of shifting to a single accreditation system but ultimately decided it was not in the best interest of the university at the time.
“We did consider that when we began the Strategic Pathways process,” Davies said. “There are significant possible complications with transitioning out of the system we have, and there are advantages to having three separate institutions to provide diversity for student offerings.”
On the other hand, Davies noted, there could be some advantages of a single institution model.
“There are possible advantages in terms of streamlining and finding cost efficiencies,” Davies said. “When we looked at it a couple years ago, we decided not to take that path but I don’t think that the regents would find that an unreasonable request to look at that again.”
The formation of the task force was decided at the Regents’ May 9 meeting. While the Board of Regents will also be looking into possible restructuring, the task force will be made up of members of the community. Davies added that the task force will add diverse perspective in the decision making process.
“The task force is comprised of respected Alaskans who bring a mix of leadership experience in higher education, business and government,” Davies said. “Members were selected from a variety of backgrounds for their demonstrated commitment to the university and the state including private sector leaders as well as former university faculty and staff, along with a student representative.”
There will be 11 members from a number of different areas of focus including one former and one current member of the board, Jo Heckman and Sheri Buretta, respectively. Tom Barrett of Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., Aaron Schutt of Doyon Ltd. and Joe Beedle, former CEO of Northrim Bank, will represent the private sector. Reggie Joule, a former legislator, mayor and current education lobbyist, will represent rural leadership. Three retired UA faculty members, Terrence Cole of UAF, Cathy Connor of the University of Alaska Southeast and Gunnar Knapp of the University of Alaska Anchorage, will represent academic interests. There will also be one former university executive, former UA Executive Vice President Wendy Redman, and one student, Joe Sweet of UAA.
After a conference committee on the state’s operating budget, members of the Alaska House and Senate appear to have agreed on cutting $5 million from the University of Alaska’s current state funding levels. If the amount remains unchanged, this will leave the university with $322 million coming from the state in fiscal 2020; a seemingly small amount compared to the significant amount of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed $134 million cut.
Regardless, the Regents are hoping to save money where money can be saved by looking into the feasibility of four different options. The first option is to remain the same; three separately accredited universities with the community college campuses part of their respective regional university. The second option is to designate “lead campuses.” This would still allow for three separately accredited universities but with each focusing on specific academic programs. This particular plan would also include consolidating all community campuses to report to only one of the lead campuses. The third option would involve a single accredited university for the whole state with community colleges organized as a unit within the single university. The final option would maintain three separately accredited universities and associated community colleges but each would have independent administrations, eliminating the need for the statewide administration.
No cost saving estimates were included in the plans.
Davies estimated the task force will begin work this summer, providing a preliminary update to the board in September.
The full Board of Regents will hold its next meeting Thursday in Fairbanks. The meeting begins at 8 a.m. Those interested can view the meeting live at www.alaska.edu/bor/live.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMPolitics.