Community Perspective

Thoughts after legislative hearing about UA

On Sept. 20, the Senate State Affairs Committee heard from the University of Alaska Anchorage Senate Faculty. I was there and listened. I think, however, that the Board of Regents is still best suited to decide about the structure of the University of Alaska at this time.

First a context, then a comment. In a break from normal procedure, the State Affairs Committee was used to hear additional faculty voices. Those voices were appreciated, and I will consider them in this priority: First, constitutionally, then statutorily, and then budgetary.

The Board of Regents has the primary duty to own and manage our university. The legislators have a duty to fund and describe by law the outline of the university. The governor has the power of veto and proposal.

The state is small in population and large in geography as well as diverse in its culture and economy. Each campus has taken on different missions that complement our communities and should complement a unified but diverse UA system.

The Sept. 20 hearing was informative, and there were many credible speakers, including Dr. Forrest Nabors, together with faculty. There is consensus on a few areas, namely that the Alaska Constitution, Article VII, Section 2 (“The University of Alaska is hereby established as the state university …”) and Section 3 (“The University of Alaska shall be governed by a board of regents …”) represent the controlling authority.

Presently, under that controlling authority, information is being collected and circulated by relevant decision-makers. The Board of Regents met in Anchorage on Sept. 12-13. Public testimony was collected, both from Anchorage and around the state. Additional opportunities for public testimony are here: www.alaska.edu/bor/public-testimony/. From Nov. 7-8, there will be a scheduled Board of Regents meeting in Fairbanks.

As we go through this period of history, it’s important to remember this: This is about all Alaska, not just one community or one community versus another. The University of Alaska, to be fair, just like all of us, should be looking for ways as to “how we can do it better.” But that’s a disciplined process, a process found in our state Constitution.

In my view, at this time, structural changes to our university system primarily rest with the decisions by the University of Alaska Board of Regents, whose members know the complexities of our university system. The Legislature has had a role, prior to Sept. 20, and that occurred when the Legislature inserted intent language in this year’s budget. The intent language tasked the Board of Regents with looking at all issues related to consolidation and the different campuses. The due date for that board report is Dec. 1.

Before the Legislature does anything, if anything at all, about structuring, it may be wise to see what that report says. Allow the Board of Regents to do its work, pursuant to their authority, for the benefit of the entire University of Alaska system.

Sen. John Coghill is a Republican from North Pole. He is vice chairman of the Senate State Affairs Committee.

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