The University of Alaska’ Board of Regents voted unanimously Aug. 20 to end a declaration of financial exigency for the university that was voted by the board on July 30. The move was taken one day after Gov. Mike Dunleavy signed a revised state budget that restored all but $25 million of a $136 million cut the governor made the UA budget in a June 28 veto action.
The declaration of financial exigency gave University of Alaska president Jim Johnsen emergency powers to terminate tenured faculty and take other steps to sharply cut costs. With the easing of the immediate budget pressure those drastic steps are not needed, several of the regents said in the meeting. There was concern voiced about the effects of the declaration on student enrollment and retention of faculty.
Johnsen said he is still proceeding with several administrative actions, including a hiring and travel freeze, restrictions on procurement and layoffs of administrative staff and non-retention of adjunct faculty. Some of the restrictions are being eased following Dunleavy’s decision to back off on the deep cuts, and his signing of a final budget bill for the year.
An effort to “monetize” the university’s assets, meaning sale or rental of buildings, is also under way, Johnsen also told the regents Aug. 20. A meeting on that is planned for Sept. 5, he said.
UA’s president appears to be proceeding with his plan to centralize the university in one entity and do away with the separate university structure of the University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Alaska Fairbanks and University of Alaska Southeast. Internal discussions are already underway toward the merging of the separate schools of engineering and schools of business, sources familiar with the talks say. However, decisions have not yet been reached on which campus will take the lead in those fields.
More details of Johnsen’s plan will emerge in the regents’ next regular meeting in mid-September.
Other schools at in the UA system are also under review for consolidation.
One major concern being voiced by faculty is whether consolidation and elimination of the three separate university structure would jeopardize accreditation. The three universities now have separate accreditation, and a consolidation will require a new accreditation of the merged organization. This will take time and it’s not certain that it can be done in all fields of teaching.
Accreditation is important to employers hiring university graduates and particularly in professional fields like engineering and the sciences.
The declaration adopted by the board on July 22, 2019 was based on an operating budget reduction of $136 million in state funding, which would have actually translated to cost reductions of approximately $200 million. Dunleavy has proposed spreading the reductions over several years, however.
“We have been given the luxury of a three-year glide path. I don’t think we can assume that a declaration of exigency (in the future) is off the table,” said Regent Dale Anderson. “We cannot afford the ‘university-of-yesterday’. We can’t think we are okay with a $25 million cut, it’s a $70 million cut,” over three years
Regent Karen Perdue said: “Exigency was meant for the most dire of situations, which we faced on June 28,” said “In some ways the lifting of exigency requires us to be more vigilant.”