The University of Alaska’s Board of Regents starts a two-day meeting today where the board is expected to turn months of discussions about consolidation and budget cuts into action.
Facing a $25 million cut in state funding as part of a multi-year agreement with the governor to cut state support for the university system by $70 million, the regents’ agenda includes decisions that would hand out multimillion cuts to the system’s campuses affecting everything from academic programs to building maintenance and research.
According to a presentation scheduled for Friday, the University of Alaska Fairbanks would take a $12.5 million cut in state funding, the University of Alaska Anchorage would receive a $9.2 million cut in state funding and the statewide system would face a $3.3 million cut. The University of Alaska Southeast, which was funded separately by the Legislature and spared from vetoes, would not see cuts in state funding. The regents could adjust these figures before making a final decision.
However, the plan also includes additional costs for the restructuring process, annual cost increases and Title IX/safety improvements, so the ultimate cuts to each campus will be larger than the reductions stated above.
Each campus would see between $3 million and $4.5 million larger of a cut due to these changes with a majority of the cuts landing on administration, followed by academic programs and student services, research and public service.
The university administration had said they wanted to minimize the cuts to academic programs, pushing as many off until the 2020-2021 academic year. Specific academic programs that might be targeted in these cuts are not identified in the budget document, which says that program reviews would set to begin this fall.
The agenda also includes discussion of proposed tuition increases for the 2021 and 2022 academic years.
The meeting had originally been planned to be a decision point where the regents would be deciding whether to pull the trigger on consolidating the University of Alaska’s three campus system under a single consolidation. Those plans have been slowed once the one-year cut for the university was reduced from $135 million as was proposed by the governor to $25 million.
The regents are set to meet today and tomorrow in Anchorage. The meetings will be streamed online at www.alaska.edu/bor/live.
Pedal to the metal
As the Board of Regents meet, leadership in the Alaska Legislature sent them a letter outlining their support for the ongoing process to reduce costs and called on the regents to accelerate the speed of their decisions. Though the Legislature has been far more friendly to the University of Alaska than the Dunleavy administration, it has also long pushed for the university to consider consolidation of its system.
Several budgets have called for the university to study this very issue, including the latest budget that calls for a report due back to the Legislature on December 1.
The letter signed by Senate President Cathy Giessel and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon reminds the university of this deadline and asks them not to let up with the speed of budget decisions.
“We applaud the rigor and seriousness with which you have consistently addressed those concerns, whether through Strategic Pathways or other reform initiatives. However, given the gravity of current circumstances, we are left with no other choice but to suggest that the current pace of change needs to be accelerated,” explained the letter.
By all indications, the Board of Regents is generally on the same page with the letter.
After hearing from several faculty officials to slow the consolidation efforts earlier this week that essentially sought to delay much of the largest cuts, Board of Regents Chair John Davies told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that he appreciated the sentiment but said the university’s hands have been forced by the reality.
“It would be great if we had the time to do that. It’s a very thoughtful document. It’s an approach that, in different circumstances, would make a lot of sense,” Davies told the newspaper. “But what people don’t understand is that we still are on the hook to cut $25 million this year, this current fiscal year, and then another $25 in the next year. We can do that with the normal advance notice to faculty and staff, but only if we start now.”
If it is the budget Sen. Giessel and Rep. Edgmon want reduced, restructuring, especially by means of a a three-way merger, is the slowest way to cut the budget, possible, and the most likely to fail. The legislature can urge the regents to hurry up an inherently slow process but that’s only going to produce more chaos for students. The chancellors are ready to draw up budget plans for the next two years. It is so ironic that the regents and legislators are choosing this approach if they want quick results and that the faculty recommendation, which urges the regents to allow the chancellors to prepare budgets for the anticipated cuts in the coming year, is portrayed as delay.
I am curious as to why Southeast is left alone? Does it get special capitol treatment? It would seem the consideration of wiping it altogether as an option. It has such a small numbers base by comparison to the other 2. Could it be our legislature has a ‘favorite son’?