Pitney wants to bring certainty back to UA

UAS merger is off the table as Pitney seeks to build trust

University of Alaska Fairbanks                                Pat Pitney is interim president of University of Alaska.

University of Alaska Fairbanks Pat Pitney is interim president of University of Alaska.

University of Alaska’s interim president said a University of Alaska Southeast merger is no longer being considered despite the system’s financial challenges.

State budget reductions and reduced enrollment because of the coronavirus pandemic has university leadership looking for ways to save money, but having University of Alaska Fairbanks absorb UAS is not in the cards, said Pat Pitney in her first news conference since being named interim president.

Pitney told reporters Tuesday one of her goals is to restore the confidence in the UA system which had been shaken in the past year.

“A merger is not being considered. I believe the state is served well by the three independent universities,” Pitney said. “(UAS) has huge strengths based on the place it’s in, with regards to fisheries and marine science, working directly with the (Kensington Gold Mine).

State cuts to the university system coupled with the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic eroded public confidence in the university and led to uncertainty about the system’s future, she said.

“One of the things that drives enrollment is certainty. We need to create certainty for the entire system. I want to create certainty, and I want to create trust and confidence, and let people know our programs are here to stay,” Pitney said.

[University of Alaska regents cut 39 programs across the system]

The university is an important investment for the state and while there have been significant reductions in programs recently, Pitney said she believes the education UA still offers is high quality and the greatest strength of the university. Investments in education are shown to produce benefits for the economy later, she said, and educating Alaskans in state is a greater indicator those students would remain in the state long term.

Pitney cited engineering and health care programs as areas in which UA had made great strides in graduating local students. When the university began increasing health care education, university officials learned it costs roughly $50,000 every time a health care worker leaves the state, and even more when an out-of-state worker needs to be recruited. Alaskans trained in the state were more likely to take jobs in Alaska and stay in the state.

Pitney offered up some good news during the news conference. Enrollment, while down, was not down as much as university officials had projected earlier in the year, she said. In the spring officials expected enrollment to be down between 20-30%, but at the beginning of the fall semester numbers were down only 8%, she said.

“The financial impact was not as severe as it might have been,” she said, “(Enrollment) is in the negative but it’s not as in the negative as we thought.”

Still, the university is looking at a total of $120 million in cuts over the past few years, and even the significant cuts made to programs only add up to a fraction of the amount the university needs to reduce. In June, the university cut 39 degree programs from across the system, and earlier this month cut UA Anchorage sports programs.

But those cuts only saved the university roughly $5 and $2 million respectively, despite the dramatic impact they had on options for students. Asked if consolidation of programming across the universities and moving to a more digital format could help save the system money, Pitney said UA already had a strong online presence but said similar programs at different universities offered specific specializations which gave more options to Alaskan students.

“If you make these programs the same you take options off the table for Alaskan students,” Pitney said. Alaskans trained in state, “stay here and stay with the company,” she said.

Pitney said not much progress has been made in the search for a new UAS chancellor. Former UAS Chancellor Rick Caulfield retired at the end of June and former UAS provost Karen Carey selected to serve as interim chancellor. Recruitment efforts for a new chancellor were delayed because of pandemic-related travel restrictions and put on hold when UAS was considered being merged with one of the other campuses.

“In my five weeks (as President) I haven’t got that far,” she said. “I will look at it just not right now.”

University of Alaska Fairbanks                                Pat Pitney is interim president of University of Alaska.

University of Alaska Fairbanks Pat Pitney is interim president of University of Alaska.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnoEmpire.

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire                                Student housing at the University of Alaska Southeast is limited to 50% capacity due to the coronavirus pandemic, and enrollment is down university-wide according to UA Interim President Pat Pitney. That means a reduction in tuition revenue on top of cuts from the state but Pitney said UA’s finances aren’t as bad as projected. Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020.

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire Student housing at the University of Alaska Southeast is limited to 50% capacity due to the coronavirus pandemic, and enrollment is down university-wide according to UA Interim President Pat Pitney. That means a reduction in tuition revenue on top of cuts from the state but Pitney said UA’s finances aren’t as bad as projected. Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020.

More in News

In this Sept. 21, 2017, file photo, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin speaks at a rally in Montgomery, Ala. Palin is on the verge of making new headlines in a legal battle with The New York Times. A defamation lawsuit against the Times, brought by the brash former Alaska governor in 2017, is set to go to trial starting Monday, Jan. 24, 2022 in federal court in Manhattan. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)
Palin COVID-19 tests delay libel trial against NY Times

Palin claims the Times damaged her reputation with an opinion piece penned by its editorial board

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
COVID-19 at all-time high statewide

The state reported 5,759 new cases sequenced from Jan. 21-23

Volunteers serve food during Project Homeless Connect on Jan. 25, 2018, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion file)
Project Homeless Connect to provide services, support on Wednesday

The event will be held at the Soldotna Sports Complex on Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The logo for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is displayed inside the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Schools aim for ‘business as usual’ as cases reach new highs

On Monday, there were 14 staff members and 69 students self-isolating with the virus

Triumvirate Theatre is seen on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021 in Nikiski, Alaska. The building burned in a fire on Feb. 20. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Triumvirate construction on hold as theater seeks additional funding

The new theater is projected to cost around $4.7 million.

The logo for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is displayed inside the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
KPBSD schools to start 2 hours late Tuesday

Due to weather, all but 4 schools will be delayed

Data from the state of Alaska show a steep increase in COVID-19 cases in January 2022. (Department of Health and Social Services)
Omicron drives COVID spike in Alaska as officials point to decreasing cases in eastern US

On Friday, the seven-day average number of daily cases skyrocketed to 2,234.6 per 100,000 people

Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire
Dan Blanchard, CEO of UnCruise Adventures, stands in front of a ship on May 14, 2021.
Smooth sailing for the 2022 season?

Cautious optimism reigns, but operators say it’s too early to tell.

Former Alaska Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Bakalar speaks a news conference on Jan. 10, 2019, in Anchorage, Alaska, after she sued the state. A federal judge on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022, ruled that Bakalar was wrongfully terminated by the then-new administration of Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy for violating her freedom of speech rights. (AP File Photo/Mark Thiessen, File)
Judge sides with attorney who alleged wrongful firing

Alaska judge says the firing violated free speech and associational rights under the U.S. and state constitutions.

Most Read