Budget update: Aug. 21, 2019

August 21, 2019

Tori Tragis

— by Dan White, chancellor

Yesterday, I travelled to Emmonak with a group of dedicated leaders from UAF, the National Institutes of Health, researchers and tribes from around the country who are dedicated to solving challenges related to health disparities, addiction and suicide in our state. The beauty of this project, led at UAF by Stacy Rasmus, Jessica Black and Evon Peter, is not in its study of the health disparities, but its study of resilience. It is about learning from Alaska Native communities the importance of community resilience in solving one of the most vexing health problems of our society writ large. I was quoted in the national press last month as saying that these budget times are unprecedented in our history. What is also unprecedented in our history is UAF’s ability to apply world-class research to today’s grand challenges. Thank you to UAF’s great researchers!

Over the past several weeks I have received many questions about the consortium model for UA that was discussed at the July 30 Board of Regents meeting. The circulating plans often refer to “the model presented by the chancellors” during the board meeting as their basis. In response, I offer my own perspective. I also want to provide reassurance to you that UAF’s success in the past and the future is not a function of an operating model but of people. Operating models don’t educate students, write proposals or conduct the much-needed outreach that puts UAF research to work in our communities. Universities are now and will continue to be people organizations, and UAF faculty, staff and students will continue to do great things.

Several versions of a proposed UA consortium model have been floated by different entities and individuals over the last couple of weeks. In the run-up to the board meeting, President Johnsen presented three options for dealing with the budget crisis. 

  • Scenario 1: Eliminate one or more universities

  • Scenario 2: Retain the three separately accredited universities with pro rata cuts and a lead campus model

  • Scenario 3: One UA under one accreditation. 

In the week prior to the BOR meeting, President Johnsen asked each chancellor to work on what their university would look like under scenario 2, the pro rata reduction for three separately accredited universities. Given that the $136 million target would be an ongoing reduction, and given that spending had already occurred during this fiscal year at a higher level, budget proposals could not rely on the use of one-time funding, such as furloughs, building and land sales, or year-to-year unrestricted fund balance. For UAF, we had three and a half days to find $68 million in permanent cuts to our base operating budget. I worked with the provost and vice chancellors to identify general areas where we might find $68 million in savings, including through collaboration with UAA and UAS. 

The charge under scenario 2 was not just pro rata cuts, however. Under the lead campus model, the chancellors would need to work together. Since the timeline was very short, the chancellors agreed to bring together their top-level administrators and faculty leaders for a pair of two-hour video sessions, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. These meetings were not intended to develop a model per se but rather to stimulate thinking about how the universities would work together under scenario 2. The group did not address statewide administration. In the end, the consortium model was our attempt to articulate scenario 2, and how would we reduce budgets by working together as three separately accredited universities. 

The BOR’s direction to President Johnsen at the conclusion of the July 30 meeting was to consolidate services and administration, and develop a plan for the single accreditation, one UA model. That is the project that many of you are working on this week, and I encourage your best thinking toward this end. We all need it.

As those discussions go on, please remember that the operating model does not drive our success — you do. The dialogue agreements that I talked about in my leadership column on June 28 are about how we value ourselves and each other in shaping our collective future. They are about how we treat, respect and care for each other. Please keep these in mind as you engage in what are and will be challenging conversations.

Today is Rev It Up, my favorite day of the year. This is the day that new students move into dorms and attend an orientation session across this great university. This is the day that many students start a new phase in their life. Thank you for your role in their success. 

Please join me at convocation on Tuesday, Sept. 10, when we will celebrate the past year’s successes and welcome in a new year. Because I have committed to livening up commencement next spring with “the wave” and a T-shirt cannon, convocation will serve as our practice venue. Wear your blue and gold and come knowing that we are who we are because of you.