UA financial emergency is a recognition of reality, not a 'power grab'

A reader who called himself “John P” submitted a comment to a blog entry about the UA financial crisis in which he puts much of the blame on UA President Jim Johnsen and claims that the proposal to declare a financial emergency is a Johnsen power grab.

I think many people at the university, who have a lot of experience in campus politics, haven’t focused on the big picture. The UA regents are to hold an emergency meeting Monday to debate the “financial exigency” motion.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the survival of the university is on the line because of the intransigence of the governor, who promised as a candidate to make no cuts to the university, and extremists in the Legislature.

Here is the comment from “John P”, followed by my reply:

This is another blatant power grab by Jim Johnsen. Dermot, it is my hope that you will speak out against any declaration of financial exigency as it will do reputational damage to the university from which it will take years to recover, if it ever does. There are still negotiations occurring and it is likely that some appropriations will be restored to the university.

The downgrade from Moody's is a separate issue related to the prospect of a cut and university's historic reliance on state funding, which is out of step with nearly all other public universities. This has left the university vulnerable to a right wing attack such as the one we are experiencing. It is clear that Johnsen sees this as an opportunity to consolidate power and run roughshod over the principle of shared governance and local control.

If the Board of Regents has any gumption, they will deny the motion put before them and express a vote of no confidence in President Johnsen. He has proven to be incompetent and has repeatedly betrayed the trust of the university community. For evidence, see the transcript of his remarks at the last board meeting where he openly and repeatedly lied about the events of 1986 to try to swing the regents to his side.

Here is what I think:

I don't see this the way you do.

The governor, the minority Republicans in the House, the Mat-Su senators and a few from Anchorage are the culprits for the $135 million cut.

I think your "power grab" anger is misplaced and you are blaming the messenger.

Some people involved with the university spend so much time arguing about internal politics that they lose sight of the reality that the people in Juneau control the state budget.

Johnsen didn't create this situation or propose a 41 percent cut in state funding. Neither did the regents. They aren't responsible for the right-wing attack.

You want to fire the president? That would accelerate the death spiral. It would not reverse it.

In your response you repeat some of the Dunleavy/Arduin propaganda about the reliance of UA on state funding compared to other states. The size of Alaska, the lack of local funding for community colleges and the expectation that the university meet the many and diverse needs of a state with a small population are among the factors that make this more complicated than the governor claims.

Perhaps the university community should have awakened earlier to this threat. The regents, the administration, UA faculty and staff, UA students and political supporters of UA share the blame for not mobilizing against the Dunleavy/Arduin/Mat-Su attack.

There was no widespread alarm because of the expectation that a sensible solution was at hand. Bipartisan majorities in the Legislature rejected Dunleavy’s irresponsible plan. That created a false hope that reason would prevail.

It is possible that some of the $135 million cut will be restored, but the governor and his legislative allies want to dismantle the university.

If the Legislature restores half of that amount, which may or may not happen, the university still faces a crisis that will require many programs to be eliminated and wide-ranging layoffs of tenured faculty members, which can only happen with the emergency declaration.

Let's say the final number calls for a $100 million cut. That would require the university to trim its expenses by something on the order of $150 million.

The fiscal year began July 1 and each day that passes the problem gets worse because of the possibility that $135 million will be cut, which would require expenses to be cut by $200 million this fiscal year.

This problem is a great deal worse that many people recognize.

It would be irresponsible for the university to wait until the Legislature acts to create contingency plans. The governor hasn't changed his opinion and we don't know if eight more Republicans will begin to act in a responsible manner.

I suppose the actual declaration of an emergency could wait until after adjournment, but there is a need to decide right now what would be eliminated if the veto stands.

Every aspect of the plan will be as unpopular as anything that has ever happened in the history of the university.

As far as damage to the reputation of the university goes, you are correct. I don't see how it can be avoided.

The actions by the governor and the Republican opponents of higher education have already done enormous harm to our state.

Dermot Cole17 Comments