UAF campus

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

The University of Alaska Board of Regents met Thursday in Anchorage to continue discussing the unsteady future of a university that has suffered nearly consecutive yearly slashes in state funding for nearly a decade. The meeting began with a collection of pleas from staff, students and community members for regents to slow the proposed consolidation of the university 

Regents heard a report on the recent survey taken by more than 3,900 students, staff, faculty and community members. The highest percentage — sitting at 27.7% — of respondents identified themselves as staff members, with the next highest — 18.6% — listed themselves as students. Other high-percentage stakeholder groups included faculty and alumni. 

Overall, most of those who participated in the survey agreed that access and flexibility for students was one of the most important aspects of the university to maintain, while cutting costs for administrative functions served as low hanging fruit which many considered easier to achieve.

The board heard nearly unanimous testimony from students, staff, faculty and community members urging them to slow the consolidation process. 

Teresa Wrobel, a senator for the United Students of University of Alaska Anchorage, explained to the board that the feedback she was hearing from the student body was that of confusion over the process and concern over possible outcomes. 

“There has to be some sort of bridge formed,” Wrobel said of communication between the board and the student body.

UA President Jim Johnsen later told the board that, while many have expressed concern regarding the speed at which the university has launched its discussion of consolidation, ultimately there will be opposition to either approach. 

“There’s never enough time to evaluate these programs in the way that people want them to be evaluated, so it’s a balance,” Johnsen said.

A majority of the discussion Thursday centered around whether the three individual universities in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau should consolidate into one accredited institution to cut costs and absorb what will end up being a $70 million cut in state funding over the next three years and the speed at which program reviews should occur in the ultimate decision of what stays and what goes.

The goal of the hourslong discussion was to come to consensus on how Johnsen should proceed in forming a working group to conduct an expedited review of a group of programs that include engineering, teacher education, health, management and business, natural sciences, arts, humanities and social sciences, indigenous studies, career and technical education programs, e-learning, organized research, public service, libraries and athletics. 

In a 9-2 vote, the board passed an amended version of the motion, allowing the inclusion of the chancellors in the process and providing a slightly looser schedule for some program reviews. 

The regents will meet again Nov. 7-8 in Fairbanks, where most of the program reviews will be presented to the board for consideration and any program reviews to be delayed will be presented with a new proposed deadline.

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