Interim President Pat Pitney stands outside the University of Alaska System Office in Fairbanks. Pitney has said her work involves rebuilding confidence, trust and stability for UA stakeholders. Photo courtesy of UA photo by Monique Musick.

The University of Alaska is preparing for another $20 million in state funding cuts, with state lawmakers proposing to offset projected losses for next fiscal year.

Pat Pitney, UA interim president, said this week the cutbacks could lead to a reduction in staff and services, as her administration maintains core programs.

“Our values are our programs, whether it is engineering, accounting, science or health,” Pitney said.

The university has lost about 10 percent of its academic programs in multi-year state funding cuts. “The programs we have now are solid,” she said. 

The university system has undergone budget cuts since 2014, through two different administrations. It is about to enter the final year of scheduled reductions based on a three-year compact between the UA Board of Regents and the Dunleavy administration. 

The Alaska Legislature has passed amendments in both chambers to offset the impact.

Rep. Adam Wool of Fairbanks introduced the amendment to restore UA’s budget. He chairs the sub-committee that oversaw the UA budget process through the Legislature.

The House agreed to $15.7 million. The Senate amendment is for $10 million. The final figure will be decided upon in a legislative conference committee. 

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has the authority to reduce the UA system spending plan, which is within the state budget.


`Right person at the right moment'

Pitney describes herself as “the right person at the right moment” to lead UA through spending cuts and the Covid pandemic.

“My real focus has been to bring stability, confidence and trust in the university by focusing on what we do best, which is our programs,” said Pitney, who is nearing her one-year anniversary as interim president. 

Pitney said she expects that a new university system president will be in place by 2023.

Pitney has served in high-level positions for the state of Alaska and the University of Alaska. She previously was director of legislative finance, a division within the state of the state of Alaska. She also worked for former Gov. Bill Walker, as director of the Office of Management and Budget. Before that, she served at UA for more than two decades, including as UAF vice chancellor.

As UA president, Pitney has emphasized programs that include the Alaska Native Success Initiative, with the goal to enhance Alaska Native student and faculty participation and achievements.

Pitney works closely with the Alaska delegation in Congress in areas that include completing UA’s federal land grant endowment.

Her focus includes UA research, which spans health, drone technology and climate science. The university system attracts $150 million yearly in competitive dollars for research. Up to 85% goes to UAF.

Partners include NASA, the National Science Foundation and the Federal Aviation Administration, among others. 

“That is external funding that would go to another university outside of Alaska if UAF was not receiving it,” Pitney said.


One of the university's biggest boosters

Pitney, a long-time Fairbanks resident, is among the university’s biggest boosters. 

She holds an MBA from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Her three children graduated from UA, each from a different university, in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Juneau.

Pitney also is a former gold medalist in women’s air rifle. Reflecting on her 1984 Olympic triumph, Pitney said that sports instilled in her the self-discipline for big achievements, a foucs that continues today.

Her aim is to lead the university system out of a budget crisis complicated by the Covid pandemic.

Said Pitney: “We are keeping an eye on the prize, which is our programs.” 

Contact Linda F. Hersey at 459-7575 or follow her at twitter.com/FDNMpolitics