DEVELOPING: UAA budget cuts become reality

UPDATE, JULY 22, 2019:

At the July 22 meeting of the UA Board of Regents, new decisions were made about the future of the University of Alaska. Late the week prior, the Board of Regents decided to move the declaration from the original July 30 date agreed upon in the July 15 meeting.

In a 10-1 vote, the decision to declare financial exigency was made. Information on financial exigency provided by the UA Board of Regents can be found here.

UA President Johnsen provided a letter to the public about the decision, in which he discussed the future of the UA system.

“This difficult decision is a direct result of a massive $136 million (41%) reduction in state funding, projected additional losses from declining enrollment and reduced research activity and the lack of sufficient reserves to fund our current operations through the year,” Johnsen said in the letter.

Johnsen spoke of the future decisions that will need to be made as well, as well as a plan involving two options.

“After thoughtful discussion, the board directed me to work with the chancellors and academic leadership to prepare high level plans for restructuring the university,” Johnsen said. “The two plan options chosen for additional consideration by the board include a lead campus model and a single accreditation model. The regents will meet again next Tuesday [July 30] and, based on the additional information, provide direction on a structure for the university system moving forward.”

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Johnsen also thanked the members of the Alaska community that spoke up as advocates for the university.

UAA Chancellor Sandeen reached out to the UAA community over the gravity of the decision.

“Today has been a difficult day for all of us,” Sandeen said. “Many of you tuned in this morning to listen to the Board of Regents’ meeting. Although we expected the board to vote to approve the declaration of financial exigency, it was still difficult to hear.”

Sandeen continued to encourage the UAA community to remain strong, and for students to reach out to university leadership and organizations for support if needed.

“I also want to remind you of the resources available to you. Students can find support through the Dean of Students Office and the Student Health and Counseling Center,” Sandeen said.

As the fall semester approaches, Sandeen promised to keep the UAA community informed as decisions continue to be made.

UPDATE, JULY 18 2019:

At the UA Board of Regents meeting on July 15, the board voted to postpone any decisions of financial exigency until the July 30 meeting.

On July 17, UAA Chancellor Cathy Sandeen reached out to UAA students in an email, providing information on the board meeting, stating what UAA is currently doing to cut costs and direction for students that need help with determining the status of their scholarships.

Cathy Sandeen, UAA’s new Chancellor, photographed outside the Administration and Humanities Building.

With fall semester about a month away, concerns about enrollment, availability of programs and the coming year are being asked. Chancellor Sandeen assuaged questions about the upcoming semester.

“Fall semester will proceed as planned. We look forward to welcoming you and to providing the great student experience you have come to expect from UAA. UAA is student-centered at its core. That will never change,” Sandeen said.

UAA has already been planning for reductions, and will continue to do so as the board of regents prepares for a decision and direction for the university system.

While we await final determination of the reduction target, we are proceeding to plan. We have already made over $3.8 million in reductions (including non-renewal of leases and other contracts and elimination of some positions),” Sandeen said.

The board will be meeting in an emergency session on July 22 at UAA in the Lee Gorsuch Commons Room 107 from 9 a.m. to 1p.m. This meeting will be open to the public, and Sandeen encourages students, staff and faculty to attend or to listen in online.

“I hope you know we are taking steps to plan and will be ready to move quickly once we know what we are dealing with,” Sandeen said to the UAA community. “I sincerely appreciate your calm, civil and professional manner throughout this trying time. That will serve us well as we work collectively to maintain the strongest UAA possible within our new reality.”

The time before the July 30 meeting will be spent gathering more information on what directions the UA system might pursue going forward.

ORIGINAL STORY:

The Alaska Legislature met on Wednesday, July 10, for a decision on whether or not to override Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s vetoes to slash $444 million from the state operating budget, which would take $135 million from the University of Alaska.

Graphic by Michaeline Collins.

When the governor’s vetoes were originally announced on June 28, UA President Jim Johnsen commented in a YouTube video that this veto would be a 41% cut to the funding received by the university, and lead to major decisions for UA.

The number of votes needed for an override of the veto was 45 out of the 60 members of the Alaska Legislation, or 75%. Twenty-two members were absent from the session, making the decision to override Dunleavy’s vetoes impossible on Wednesday.

The special session called by the governor was split between two venues, as legislators appeared in both Juneau and Wasilla.

Austin Baird, the communications director of the Alaska House Majority, expressed concern about what is yet to come.

“Alaska is on the brink of a self-inflicted economic recession as a result of the $444 million in vetoes. Among the many impacts of the 182 vetoes, the University of Alaska could lose accreditation and be forced to close a campus,” Baird said in a July 10 press release by the Alaska House Majority.

An email from Daniel White, the Chancellor of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, echoed the sentiment of many Alaskans about these budget cuts.

“While the governor’s cuts have been referred to by some as ‘belt tightening’ or a ‘haircut,’ they are not. If not overridden, these cuts will result in significant change at the university. Alaskans deserve access to postsecondary education, and they deserve this opportunity here in Alaska,” White said.

Wednesday’s vote by the legislator’s meeting in Juneau was 37-1 in favor of an override. The session recessed until Thursday at 10:30 a.m. to give absent legislators a chance to appear in Juneau. Without the needed amount of legislators present, a quorum could not be called to make an official decision.

Through Friday, July 12, the standoff was maintained as the groups in Juneau and Wasilla did not come together, defeating the chance for legislators to override Dunleavy’s vetoes.

The consequences of the cuts can already be seen in the loss of scholarships and grants for thousands of Alaska’s students.

Currently, the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education is “not able to make awards under any of these programs at this time. [They] understand this has created a stressful situation as [students] start preparing for the fall 2019 semester,” according to an official email sent out by Keith Champagne, the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs.

This will affect funding for students who receive grants such as the Alaska Performance Scholarship, the Alaska Education Grant and the Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho, or WWAMI, medical education grant. For updates on these grants, sign up at ACPE.

UAA Chancellor Cathy Sandeen was quick to respond to the actions of the Legislature, and addressed the UAA community in a video on social media.

“First, I want to thank you for your advocacy and for always being supporters of UAA, our wonderful, wonderful, institution,” Sandeen said. “For now, I think we need to wait until Monday. The Board of Regents will meet and they will be considering some important issues, not the least of which would be the potential declaration of financial exigency.”

A declaration of financial exigency allows for UA to immediately make changes to the university system through the discontinuance or down-sizing of current programs due to a lack of funds.

In a communication from Johnsen to the UA community, other decisions will include discussions on creating a leaner UA by assigning each university a prorated share of the budget reduction, eliminating one or more universities and/or community campuses and consolidating the university within a single accreditation with shared courses and services.

Despite the cuts, however, fall semester classes will proceed as scheduled and programs in danger of being cut first will be non-academic programs, including sports, according to Johnsen.

Sandeen also spoke of the upcoming decisions, and promised to keep students informed of UAA’s choices.

“There are going to be major changes at UAA, there is no doubt about that, but we are going to do that collectively, making decisions with guidance from the president and the Board of Regents,” Sandeen said. “We are going to share information along the way, and we are going to keep students at the center of whatever we do.”

The UA Board of Regents will meet on Monday, July 15 to begin making decisions on the future of the UA system. The meeting begins at 1 p.m. in Fairbanks. The live stream can be viewed by the public.

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