Regents delay emergency response to Dunleavy's chaotic attack on Alaska's university

The University of Alaska Board of Regents met Monday in Fairbanks to deal with the emergency created by Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s reckless effort to erase much of the institution that has served the state and territory for a century.

The regents voted to delay the declaration until a meeting at the end of the month. The reluctance to act is understandable, but the delay adds to the uncertainty about what comes next. Hoping, as one regent said, that sleeping legislators may awaken in the next two weeks to the damage is wishful thinking.

In addition, there is no chance that the many university groups statewide will develop a consensus on what programs to eliminate in the next two weeks. The regents have not prepared to shut down major programs in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Juneau because it was considered unlikely.

The regents called on UA President Jim Johnsen to suggest how to restructure the university by next week. Regent Karen Perdue, who has had a long association with the university, said it would be tragic to be forced to make these decisions in two weeks.

The governor has created an untenable situation by his lack of leadership.

Here is the agenda, which included a request that the university declare a financial emergency. While the step is necessary because of Dunleavy, it will do instant damage to the University of Alaska and all of its programs.

In addition to the 41 percent state budget cut, reductions in tuition, federal grants and other sources are expected to inflate the total to $200 million this fiscal year. If reductions are not made to programs by February, the university will run out of money.

Dunleavy and the Republican holdouts in the Legislature are accelerating the brain drain from Alaska and encouraging bright young Alaskans to get the education they need Outside. It seems to be part of a desire by some in Alaska to turn the university into a community college system.

“We expect other revenues from tuition, grants, contracts, and charitable giving to decline given reputational impacts and potential reductions in state scholarships and financial aid, and that UA will incur transition and teach-out costs, requiring FY20 reductions in excess of $200 million,” UA administrators say.

“For context, closing UAF, or UAA and UAS combined, would not eliminate this shortfall.”

“Each day of delay in implementing additional cost reductions, including administrative and academic consolidations, and the required termination of more than 1,300 – approximately 18% – of remaining faculty, staff and the programs they offer, will result in expenditures in excess of current funding, requiring still additional reductions.”

A “rapid reduction” of costs means an unplanned dismantling of key university programs statewide.

The governor and the Republicans in the Legislature supporting his vetoes never gave a hint while running for office that they wanted this to happen and are refusing to take responsibility for their actions.

The regents meeting began at 1 p.m. with an emotional plea and an apology from Fairbanks Sen. Click Bishop, who called the situation a travesty and said, “We’re not done and we’re going to turn this situation around.”

Anchorage Rep. Andy Josephson, speaking from Anchorage, said he agreed with Bishop and mentioned that the House Finance Committee started Monday to include funding for the university and other vetoed items in a new bill.

UA President Jim Johnsen said the 41 percent budget cut, plus the suspension of scholarships, makes the declaration of a financial emergency the “least worst option” but said efforts should continue to reverse the damage and develop a response.

The board last declared a financial emergency in 1986 under less trying circumstances.

He said the level of interest and support for the university is staggering, but he said that immediate action is necessary. “Every day we do not make reductions compounds the reductions we will have to make later in the year,” he said.

He said it may be September or later before the university knows what the budget for the fiscal year, which creates huge uncertainty. There will be strong opposition to any steps the university takes.

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Dermot Cole3 Comments