To the editor: The biggest threat facing the University of Alaska system is the cloud of uncertainty. I urge university administration — at all levels — to move quickly and decisively in making the changes needed to allow the university to thrive in this new economic environment. Until we can put the restructuring debate behind us, our enrollment, our staff and faculty retention, and our reputation will suffer.
The idea of taking years to gather input, study different plans and make incremental changes is appealing on the surface. But the past few months have demonstrated that uncertainty about the future is only breeding toxic infighting between programs and campuses. The full UA community is never going to unite around one vision.
Instead, we are going to see more infighting of faculty, staff, union, and stakeholder groups. I am tired of responding to surveys clearly slanted to elicit support for one plan or another. I am tired of witnessing huge diversions of energy away from our core expertise in order to deal with the uncertainty. I am tired of watching as some of the university’s best people are driven away by this same uncertainty.
Budget cuts that should be driven by bold strategy are instead doled out incrementally across the system, dragging down all programs and personnel. Many departments — and the people who work there — are essentially frozen until decisions are made about where the university is headed.
This frozen state is not caused by university structure or budget. It is caused by uncertainty.
I am confident the university can thrive under several of the proposed structural models so long as they are implemented with care. I, and many colleagues, are agnostic about whether we are three universities or one. Administrators absolutely need to seek input on proposed plans. But this does not require years. It can be done quickly.
Good leadership on occasion requires making unpopular or bold decisions, even with limited information. I encourage university leadership at all levels to resist the temptation to move slowly. Do your homework. Then be swift and decisive. Rip off the Band-Aid of uncertainty. The sooner we know the path forward, the sooner we can all get back to what we do best.