Dunleavy pushes false claims in attack on University of Alaska

The state Office of Management and Budget, which has been turned into a political attack arm for the Dunleavy administration, continues to spread lies about the University of Alaska.

The latest evidence is this unsigned 15-page document from June 29, published at state government expense. It is a disservice to Alaskans and an embarrassment to every state employee, including those working for temporary budget director Donna Arduin.

UA President Jim Johnsen provided this diplomatic response in which he said the information “is incomplete, lacks context and draws misleading comparisons.”

The document repeats much of the slipshod analysis offered earlier this year to the Legislature by longtime state employee Mike Barnhill, the policy director under Arduin. I wrote about Barnhill’s distorted claims on Feb. 19 and again on March 16, March 17 and March 18.

There appears to have been no attempt by the state to correct Barnhill’s mistakes. Instead, the latest OMB document repeats them and adds more. The University of Alaska is one of the most important institutions in our state. It deserves an intellectually honest and informed appraisal of its strengths and weaknesses. Not this.

Barnhill made the ludicrous claim the Alaska Constitution has no requirement to fund the university, though the Constitution established UA as the only state university. He falsely claimed that in 2017 the university was “downgraded by Moody’s for over-reliance on state funding.” In fact, the agency mentioned the dependence of the university on state funding and the risks inherent with oil prices. “Over-reliance” was Barnhill’s invention.

Speaking to the House Finance Committee in March, Barnhill claimed the overall UA budget proposed by the Dunleavy administration would have shown an increase in the next fiscal year.

Dunleavy added $154 million in unidentified funds to make it appear the budget was increasing. Where was the university going to find this $154 million of imaginary money?

Barnhill said: “I don’t mean to give the impression that I am aware of specific resources. I am aware that universities elsewhere, including the University of Alaska, avail themselves of a variety of fund sources when they prepare a budget. That includes going to alumni in a capital campaign, it includes leveraging federal dollars. It includes going to private sector for fundraising. It includes tuition, coupled with that the opportunity to make consolidations and cost reductions.”

The honest answer would have been, “I have no idea,” or “There is no place to get that kind of money."

In the OMB document, spurious claims from Arduin and Barnhill about the relative size of the cut are repeated. The cut of $135 million is 41 percent of state general funds, “but if other funding sources are maintained,” the reduction is 16 percent, OMB claims.

The other funding sources cannot be maintained. Even Arduin and Barnhill know this.

Tuition revenue will drop. Research grants and contracts will drop. As faculty members are laid off and programs are discontinued, students will go elsewhere. Faculty members with research contracts will go elsewhere. It will be a death spiral.

The university estimates that for this fiscal year the total impact will be more than $200 million.

The 41 percent cut will lead to “massive dislocation and uncertainty,” said Johnsen, a disclosure missing from the OMB report.

The document also invents a lie that state funds are not needed to attract research grants, pointing to Stanford, Yale and Harvard as examples for UA to emulate.

Harvard and UA are exactly the same, except Harvard costs about $68,000 a year, has an endowment of $39 billion, accepts 5 percent of those who apply and is 382 years old.

The Dunleavy administration should withdraw the OMB report and apologize for this disgraceful attempt to mislead the public.


Dermot Cole6 Comments