On Jan. 6, University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen sent a memo to UA employees explaining that as a result of state budget cuts all state-related entities will be suspending all non-essential travel and hiring, with some qualifiers.
According to the email, travel or hiring activity allowed by the terms of a research grant or other restricted program, as well as travel for fund raising, student recruitment, essential professional development, or “gaining new opportunities for research grants and contracts” will not be subject to restrictions. Besides those exceptions, all travel in and outside of the U.S. by university faculty and staff on all UA campuses require approval by the Chancellor, Vice Chancellor or Provost.
For departments like the Center for Human Development at UAA, the extra step for travel will greatly limit their ability to perform their duties.
“The side that we’ll see some difficulty on is where our projects are funded by general fund money,” said Michela Spitz, the Associate Director of Finance and Administration for the Center for Human Development at UAA. “We also have another contract project given to us by the state of Alaska, the university sees it as general fund money even though it has a targeted, specific goal. In order to fulfill the mandate of the money given to us, we have to travel to conduct trainings and deal with crisis intervention, and we might have to travel at the drop of the hat. If we have to write a memo and don’t get it approved immediately, we can’t meet our mandate.”
Spitz said that some of the projects the Center of Human Development do require 20 to 50 trips per week, which is a lot of memos to write.
“I’m hoping we can get the Vice Chancellor to give blanket approval, because if we can’t travel we can’t fulfill our contract,” Spitz said.
William Hogan, the Dean of College of Health, said that the new policy is already starting to have effects on University employees.
“The restrictions are already having some impact in that we have had to say no to faculty and staff to attend important professional development conferences but are deemed non-essential in this fiscal environment.”
Hogan said that hopefully staff and employees can try to find learning opportunities online and at a reduced cost as a result of the budget cuts. “We, in the College of Health understand the challenges both the University and State face financially and want to make sure we continue to be good stewards of the public dollar.”
As for impact that these cuts will have on students, UAA’s Athletic Director Keith Hackett was sure that student clubs and organizations reliant on travel to participate will be safe from the budget cuts.
“We will definitely be able to continue to travel, but there is a new process we will have to go through. We will have to cut out anything nonessential from our traveling budget, but it is crucial that we attend things like NCAA conferences as well as traveling for recruiting and for Championship games and things of that nature.”
Hackett added that there might need to be some changes made for administrative travel, but that student traveling will continue to be funded.
UA President Jim Johnsen added in the memo to employees that as soon as it is possible and appropriate, he will be removing the restrictions so that “travel and hiring can continue to be as strategic as possible”.