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

Commercial fishing vessels are moored in the Kenai harbor on July 10, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
Assembly to take up legislation opposing closure of federal inlet waters to commercial fishing

The assembly will discuss the resolution at their Dec. 1 meeting

A sign detailing the store’s mask policy stands outside Safeway in Soldotna on July 21, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
Borough attorney signs letter refuting state’s claim that second-class boroughs can mandate masks

The letter describes specific statutes barring them from enacting mask mandate

Emergency worker Melanie Chavez takes a COVID-19 test sample at the Juneau International Airport screening site on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
State addresses COVID-19 case data backlog

More than 1,600 positive cases were reported late by new commercial lab in Anchorage

Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion 
Soldotna Prep School is pictured on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019 in Soldotna. The school was recently shuttered and classes combined with Soldotna High School.
Borough to enter into Soldotna Prep use agreements

The borough will enter into agreements with the Boys and Girls Club of the Kenai Peninsula and Central Emergency Services

Elizabeth Shaw, left, and Nathaniel Shaw, center, pick out a grab bag in the hopes of winning a free quilt from Karri Ambrosini, right, during the Sterling Fall Festival at the Sterling Community Center on Nov. 28, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
Getting in the spirit

Local vendors offer holiday wares at Sterling fest

An Arctic Ringed Seal, which is listed as a “threatened” subspecies of ringed seal under the Endangered Species Act. (Courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
Feds reject petition to delist Arctic ringed seals as threatened

Since 2013, three subspecies of ringed seal — the Arctic, Okhotsk and Baltic — have been listed as threatened.

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
DHSS: four additional deaths tied to COVID-19

Homer has 44 new positive cases reported in one day

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
State reports 2nd-highest daily case increase; 10 new cases at Heritage Place

100% remote learning continues for central pen. schools through Dec. 18

Most Read