Understanding UAA’s budget crisis and Statewide Transformation

Statewide Transformation, which was released on April 14 by President Jim Johnsen, outlines decisions regarding cuts and changes that have been implemented, or will be in the next 30, 60 and 90 days, at each university. Decisions regarding UAA more specifically were outlined in a PowerPoint presentation under the chancellor, which can be found on UAA’s website. Both documents discuss cuts and changes coming to the university as soon as within 30 days.

Over the years, lawmakers, legislation, the national economy and oil production have dug the State of Alaska into a deep hole, fiscally. The state has been an integral contributor to the University of Alaska and its ability to function. In the current state fiscal climate the university is forced to consider anything that can save them money.

For the past two years, UAA has reduced its budget by $19.5 million. Now UAA is looking to reduce costs further, from centralizing IT services to freezing a single librarian position. According to the budget update released on April 14 by Chancellor Tom Case, UAA is hoping to reduce costs by over $15 million and eliminate 213 positions.

Statewide Transformation is Johnsen’s plan to increase efficiency and save the university money. The decisions and Statewide Transformation framework began to take shape before Strategic Pathways was introduced back in February, but both tactics are similar: decrease money spent through strategically coordinated cuts.

One of the many decisions outlined in the document is to transform the IT department. The University of Alaska will be centralizing all IT services, across all campuses, to the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. Services that will be moved to Fairbanks include Help Desk, desktop support and staff training. In addition, IT is expected to create a single email and calendar service for all campuses, streamlining communication and schedule. All of these functions are required to transition within a 30-day time period.

“I’m most concerned with the changes to IT. Centralizing our institution’s email in Fairbanks and switching to google apps is not advisable. Switching will be costly for staff and faculty who aren’t used to google and who’ve worked with MS Exchange. They’ll spend hours having to be retrained,” Matthieu Ostrander, Vice President of the Union of Students and economics student at UAA, said.

The streamlining of IT at the University of Alaska level may save money, but Ostrander is worried about the affects that the centralization will have on the services the university promises to provide.

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“Centralizing IT in Fairbanks will likely mean higher response times, which is unfortunate since UAA’s average hold time is 14 seconds, which well beats the industry average. Similarly, we can’t afford to lose services to students, particularly at peak times. Being a non-traditional campus, it’s essential that we recognize that many of our students lack the skills needed to fill out complicated online forms,” Ostrander said. “It will be a complete disaster. Think mass staff retraining, huge drain on productivity.”

After Statewide Transformation details were released April 14, each decision in the framework was sent to the appropriate department where they will implement their own plan for achieving Johnsen’s plans by deadline.

In addition to the decisions regarding cuts and job loss, Statewide Transformation also lists strong programs and functions at the university that have potential for investment. Such programs include health sciences, geology, engineering, public policy, community outreach through University Advancement, support for students with dissabilities, and Center for Research and Alaska Native Education.

All information pertaining to the budget can be found on the University of Alaska’s website. Students are encouraged to be a part of the Statewide Transformation and Strategic Pathways process, in which the Board of Regents and President Jim Johnsen will evaluate programs considered for both elimination, restructure, and investment.

“Though none of us want programs, staff, or faculty to be cut, the unprecedented fiscal situation presents unique challenges to be faced. Student input is crucial in this process. If students do want to be involved, there is a multitude of different ways to raise concerns or provide meaningful input,” Arina Filippenko, a business administration student at UAA, said.

Future tuition increases, final cuts, cuts through Strategic Pathways and the impacts of Statewide Transformation are all unknown at this time. Cuts and other budget related decisions will be made final in June after the Board of Regents’ and Governor’s budget approval.