President Jim Johnsen says university is ‘strong’ in state of university address

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President Jim Johnsen held an open forum last September discussing Phase 1 of the university's Strategic Pathways plan with students and faculty. Photo credit: Jay Guzman

In a speech describing the state of the university, UA President Jim Johnsen announced Feb. 16 that the University system was going “strong” despite a decline in state funding and enrollment.

Johnsen expressed optimism in the university system, noting that strong leaders in the UA board of regents and his implementation of Strategic Pathways are increasing productivity and money management since a lack of state funding.

“President Johnsen’s address had the incredibly difficult job of honestly stating the needs of the university at a time when those needs, primarily more money, are at direct odds with the ability of the state to provide,” Sam Erickson, USUAA President, said. “However, I do believe that being honest about the real challenges faced by UA, such as the deferred maintenance backlog of close to $1 billion, was the best move, enabling a transparent plea to be made to the state based on the realities of funding needs when the university system has already absorbed cuts of almost 14 percent.”

For a university system that has seen nearly 10 percent of UA’s degree and certificate programs eliminated or suspended, a $52.7 million budget shortfall and the elimination of 923 university jobs in the last three years, UAA students are finding it hard to agree with Johnsen’s state of the university statements.

“I’d probably disagree. It seems like UAA struggles a lot financially. I’ve gone here the last two years and have seen a really high increase in tuition. It’s sad to think that Nordic skiing was almost taken away from UAA strictly from budget cuts. I think it’s pretty obvious UAA isn’t really doing that well considering there is constantly something else the are trying to get rid of,” Andrea Brainerd, a UAA health sciences student, said.

Johnsen mentioned a possible five percent, or $16 million, cut to UA funding when the legislature passes their budget for the next fiscal year. Cuts to UA funding are not included in the current budget at this time.

“I don’t think we’re doing that well, but I think we’re doing well considering that we haven’t been doing so well in recent years you know? Like, we’re in a bit of a weird spot and we could be doing a lot better. But we could also be doing so so so much worse,” Hannah Dorough, UAA English student, said.

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With possible cuts in the future, university leaders are devising ways to save the UA system money, while maintaining a “strong” quality and efficient education.

USUAA’s Juneau advocacy trip was successful in gaining support from legislators and spreading the word of UA’s need for state funding.

“If Alaska is ever to transition to anything beyond a mere extraction-based economy, UA will play a vital role. We sink or swim together, and the job now falls to us as students and student advocates to press that point home,” Erickson said. “USUAA’s Juneau advocacy trip was already met with significant success and support from many of the new class of freshman legislators, but we won’t stop there.”

Erickson is urging students to call legislators and notes that the best way to get legislators to fund what’s important is to make calls and tell them.