In Response to the Editorial: Is the University Forgetting its Purpose?

BY RICHARD CAULFIELD
Chancellor, University of Alaska Southeast
For the UAS Whalesong

As UAS Chancellor I appreciate the questions raised in the recent Whalesong editorial: Is the University Forgetting its Purpose? The editorial focused on costs of the new UAS entrance sign and other facilities, and about budget priorities when UA budgets are reduced. The writer wonders if building renovations come at the expense of courses, degrees, faculty, and staff that are the heart of any university.

In response, first let me say that I’m pleased that you appreciate our new entrance sign, including the Tlingit language which reminds us all of our location on the ancestral land of the Áak’w Kwáan. We’ve had very positive response to this new sign, which replaced one that was 30 years old and was damaged and worn.

The budget challenges we face at UAS are real. We’ve seen a nearly 18 percent cut in our state general fund support over the past three years. It’s impossible to take cuts of this size without having an impact. But there are two important facts that I’d like to share about how we use our available funding.

First, state dollars for faculty, staff, and academic programs come to us as an ‘operating budget’. For the most part, these funds are completely separate from the ‘capital budget’, which is intended for construction, renewal, renovation, and maintenance. By definition, capital funds cannot be transferred to the operating budget.

Until recently UAS received some $2-3M annually for facilities construction and renovation. These funds were used in part for the sign, for our new residence hall, and for renovation of the 40-year old Whitehead Building. These projects are part of our Juneau campus master plan, approved by the Board of Regents that guides facilities expenditures. Lately, we’ve received no capital budget at all, so the projects underway now were those already in the pipeline. The state’s budget climate now means it’s unlikely we’ll see funding for a new student union for the foreseeable future.

Importantly, renovating older buildings reduces energy costs and allows us to make more efficient use of space. UAS has been able to hold the line on any new electrical costs because of improved heating systems and better insulation. Consolidating administrative services in the Hendrickson Building reduces our overall facilities footprint, saving dollars spent on the old bookstore building. These capital investments help us create a more cost-effective and sustainable campus.

The second point has to do with funding academic programs, which comes from tuition and the operating budget. You are correct that we’ve seen some course and degree reductions, and some personnel cuts. In the last two years UAS lost fulltime 23 positions, mostly through attrition. Such cuts are tough to make, but we do our best to be strategic and transparent about them.

In recent years cuts have largely been in administrative areas. But by strategically reinvesting funds, we’ve actually added several faculty positions, including in biology/fisheries, Alaska Native studies/Northwest Coast arts, and teacher education. The fact that UAS will serve as lead statewide in teacher preparation will almost certainly grow offerings in both Education and the School of Arts and Sciences. Moreover, we still have our business and public administration programs which I expect will grow in the years ahead. So, even though we’re in a tough budget climate, we’re doing our best to serve students well and provide quality programs.

In making these tough budget decisions, we use the UAS Strategic Planning and Budget Advisory Committee (SPBAC) which includes faculty, staff, and student representation. I invite you to review the website for that Committee, which includes a wealth of budget information. You’ll find that at http://www.uas.alaska.edu/admin/spbac.html

I also invite you to share your ideas and concerns directly with me and with university leaders. We have several open forums planned this spring on budget priorities, and I encourage you to attend those, ask questions, and share your ideas. Input from students in recent years have had a very real positive impact on decisions we made.

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