The University of Alaska Board of Regents agreed to consider a proposal to consolidate the university system on July 30th. The choice came in response to Governor Mike Dunleavy’s line item veto in June that eliminated $136 million in funding from the University of Alaska system. Consolidation could be a way to help the UA system function with fewer resources. Chancellor Richard Caulfield discussed the future of the University of Alaska Southeast at a recent forum in Juneau.
“I have to say the 41-percent reduction in our general fund was quite a dramatic reduction,” he says. Consolidation would mean, for example, instead of having two schools of management one in Fairbanks and one in Anchorage, those programs would merge.
It’s not the first time the university has considered consolidation. Caulfield says the realities of managing a big system in a big state have prevented such a merger previously. But this budget reality is different. UA president Jim Johnsen asked the chancellors of each University to plan for a proportional reduction of the overall cuts. For UAS that means $10 million dollars. Caulfield says that likely includes a reduction of about 40 faculty and staff positions system-wide, alongside other reductions.
The Board of Regents declared financial exigency in July. In part, that means the university can dismiss faculty and staff on much shorter notice than normal circumstances allow. And for everyone involved the uncertainty throughout the legislative process makes planning more difficult. Leslie Gordon is the campus director at the UAS Sitka campus.
“At this point it’s really hard to know exactly what that will mean because it’s all a plan and a concept,” Gordon says.
That uncertainty comes from a few places: the state legislature passed a budget that restores much of the university funding, but it still awaits a signature from the governor. And the Board of Regents has yet to come up with a final plan for how it will manage the cuts, regardless of how severe they end up being. Chancellor Caulfield recognizes the big changes to come, but still can’t say exactly what the landscape looks like.
“With all of this swirl of budget activity, the uncertainty has been very very difficult for all of us, for students, for faculty, for staff, just simply not knowing what the budget will look like,” Caulfield says.
To top things off, the fiscal year is already a month underway. That means the university has to keep operating without knowing exactly what budget it has to worth with. And it’s been taking its toll on campus.
“I think people feel uneasy, unsettled,” Gordon said. “I’ve heard people say I just want a decision I want to know what’s going to happen, I want to know what the future is.”
But one thing Gordon is sure about?
“Fall semester is happening and going on as usual, we’re still registering students, we’re planning for fall semester,” she says.
Students can count on classes to attend in person or online this fall. The Board of Regents will consider consolidation strategies at its next meeting mid-September.