Board of Regents update

July 31, 2019

Tori Tragis

UAF photo by JR Ancheta.
UAF photo by JR Ancheta.

— by Anupma Prakash, provost and executive vice chancellor

Yesterday, July 30, the Board of Regents met at the University of Alaska Anchorage to discuss and vote on one of two possible structures for the University of Alaska. One, the consortium model, would retain the current UA structure of three independently accredited universities. The other option, a new UA, would function under one accreditation.

The three chancellors presented the consortium model, built on elements of Strategic Pathways. This model recognized that each university fulfills a distinct mission and regional need and would continue to do so under a leaner structure, while maintaining its brand and identity. Deliberate collaboration would form the foundation of shared services, regional needs would drive program offerings, and healthy competition would drive excellence and entrepreneurship. The chancellors presented the areas of reduction and planned cost-savings within their respective universities based on the pro rata reductions that President Johnsen laid out in early June. UAF’s unrestricted general fund, or UGF, under this scenario was based on a reduction of $68 million.

President Johnsen presented the new UA model, which recognized that a larger restructuring was required to meet the current budget challenges. Savings would be realized by reducing administration, eliminating redundancy in program offerings, and centralizing administrative and support functions, among other things. Structural and academic simplification would be achieved by going from the 17 distinct schools and colleges in the current system to potentially nine unduplicated colleges serving students across the state. 

Both models were discussed, questioned and debated at length. Regents emphasized the importance of keeping students at the heart of all decisions, and they emphasized the need to develop a teach-out plan for each student who would be impacted by the restructuring and program reductions. Finally, with a vote of 8 to 3, a motion (PDF) was approved that authorized a regent subcommittee to provide interim oversight for developing a plan for a revised organizational structure that would transition the University of Alaska to a single institutional accreditation over the 2019-2020 academic year. This subcommittee, chaired by Regent Mary Hughes, will commence work right away and present the restructuring plan for approval at the BOR meeting Sept. 12-13, in Juneau. 

Another important highlight of yesterday’s BOR meeting was a presentation by Mike Barnhill, policy director of the Office of Management and Budget. Speaking on behalf of Gov. Dunleavy, Barnhill proposed that instead of a $135 million cut in one year, the university budget be reduced over two fiscal years: FY20 reductions of $90 million, in addition to the $5 million that the Legislature has already reduced, would be followed by a $38 million reduction in FY21.

This two-step approach was, however, conditional. It required, among other things, a $20 million reduction to UAF organized research and a $1 million cut to UA Museum of the North. Both areas of reduction were questioned by regents who spoke passionately about the value of UAF research and the importance of the long-term archives and collections at the museum.

UA leadership will continue to interact with OMB to find an improved path forward for funding the university.

Students may be wondering what all this means for them. I want to assure you that UAF is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, and we are in good standing with the commission. We will continue to keep your needs and interests in mind as we work closely with them to implement changes. We will limit discretionary expenses in all possible areas in order to preserve academic and student services to the maximum extent possible. This prompts me to remind all employees to follow the discretionary expenditure guidelines released by President Johnsen.

I encourage all students to enroll for classes and not wait until the last minute to register. Chancellor White is taking a short, much needed vacation. He and I are counting down the days to welcome all faculty, staff and students to the start of the fall semester!