Alaska's higher education crisis starts at the top—with Dunleavy

Seven former chancellors of the University of Alaska added their voices to the chorus asking for an orderly, coherent, sensible plan for the future of higher education in Alaska.

Now they need to properly identify and confront the single individual who has done the most to make that impossible—Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

Dunleavy created the chaotic situation that led to the crisis, one marked by growing infighting, regional rivalries and internal dissension.

The former chancellors endorsed the notion that the current crop of chancellors “should now be permitted to move forward confidently with planning processes specific to each university that will effectively downsize and focus each separately accredited body in a way that preserves the missions of each one and that allows the universities to flourish in their service to their regions and the state.”

A lot of the angst stems from the desire in Anchorage for more independence and worries that a more centralized system would lead to greater control from Fairbanks.

The UA regents held an emergency meeting Monday and voted to delay the plan to consolidate the three branches of the university system. I think it was the right thing to do, given the level of confusion and controversy. The complexity of the system and the wide range of competing interests mandates a slower response.

What has been lost in much of the discussion is the cause of this mess—the flawed Dunleavy scheme that downsizing the university is the best option for Alaska.

Dunleavy and his former temporary budget director, Donna Arduin, performed no analysis before deciding that dismantling the university was a brilliant idea. They invented statistics and made false claims.

Don’t forget that it wasn’t three months ago that Dunleavy offered a one-page master plan to end research at UAF.

His reckless approach is the fundamental problem. The tension between Fairbanks and Anchorage is a symptom.

The pressure of the recall campaign and the reality that legislative majorities in both the House and Senate oppose the Dunleavy dismantling should be all that university supporters need to recognize the folly of Dunleavy’s world view and reject it.

The reticence of the former chancellors and so many other people connected with the university to call out Dunleavy’s continuing effort to dismantle the university, is the biggest obstacle to reversing what he has done.

The university needs to counter Dunleavy by realizing that the so-called “compact” that the governor forced UA to accept does not prevent the UA Board of Regents from seeking a budget that represents what the institution needs.

The compact was blackmail, pure and simple. Had the university not signed it, Dunleavy would have cut $110 million more immediately. It was a reckless demand by Dunleavy.

The university should abide by the letter of the so-called compact, in which it formally agreed that Dunleavy wants budget cuts.

Nothing in the compact requires the UA regents to agree with Dunleavy’s scheme.

The Legislature will set the budget for the university next year. It would be foolish for the university to go into that discussion accepting the Dunleavy blackmail as wisdom from on high.

The former chancellors, in their column, did point to a solution for all those who care about higher education.

“The university system is challenged by reductions in state funding and drops in enrollment, largely due to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s approach to its statewide university system. However, these are not the first challenges the system has faced. Its rich history provides several examples where the president, chancellors, faculty, staff, students and alumni constituents have worked collaboratively to address and overcome issues,” the former chancellors said.

The best collaborative approach is to use the budget approved by legislative majorities last spring as the starting point and ignore the governor, who is on the run from the recall.

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