Future of UA system unclear
By KIERAN POULSON-EDWARDS
Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong
The University of Alaska in August narrowly avoided a 41% decrease in state funding by agreeing to a $70 million cut over the next three years. Gov. Mike Dunleavy in June vetoed $136 million from the UA operating budget for the current fiscal year.
“One of the biggest problems has been the uncertainty,” UA Board of Regents Chairman John Davies said before signing the so-called compact. “I think that this agreement will provide a great deal of certainty so we can begin the process of moving forward together.”
Under the agreement, $25 million was cut from statewide university funding for fiscal year 2020, which began July 1, with a $25 million reduction in fiscal year 2021 and $20 million in 2022.
According to Chancellor Rick Caufield, the first impacts of the reductions will be felt by UAS students as soon as 2020.
The cut to UAS is about $2.6 million. Caulfield said these will be achieved through an increase in student-to-faculty ratio, possibly resulting in larger classes, as well as a reduction to facilities maintenance and administration. At a Sept. 13 UA Board of Regents meeting, Caulfield said other reductions will come through workload adjustments, adjunct lay-offs, and attrition.
“We are pretty spartan, I would say, with many of our staffing areas, and not in a position to cut a lot more,” Caufield told the regents.
At that meeting, the regents approved the statewide 2020 operating budget with this year’s $25 million cut. They agreed to consider several restructuring options, including three separately accredited universities, as UA is now, or consolidate into one university with a single accreditation.
Currently, 13 programs across the UA system are under review, including teacher education, management and business, natural sciences, and indigenous studies. Between Oct. 14 to 17 virtual town hall meetings will be held to hear public testimony and take questions on the program reviews. https://alaska.edu/newua/calendar.php
The university system has been reducing its budget since 2015, when the market price for oil crashed and sent Alaska into a fiscal crisis.