What others say: Legislature should help UA transition

Changes on the way for the University of Alaska system, as sketched out in a memo from UA President Jim Johnsen last week, look to be seismic. Just how much they will affect the state — and Fairbanks in particular — was demonstrated on the News-Miner’s front page Friday. On a normal day, the news that the university was opting not to hire any of the four finalists for the vacant University of Alaska Fairbanks chancellor position would have been the day’s top story. But the magnitude of the changes planned for the university, of which holding off on hiring a permanent UAF chancellor was just one part, were sufficient to push that news off the front page altogether.

The road ahead for the university won’t likely be smooth. If the university were a jet airplane, President Johnsen would be attempting to land it with one sputtering engine. The students, staff, faculty and many members of Alaska’s communities are along for the ride, hoping that the situation is handled with expertise that will minimize the damage.

Though the magnitude of the cuts to the university’s budget — as much as $50 million of an allocation that stood at about $350 million last year — is apparent, details of the university’s plan to deal with that cut haven’t yet been finalized. It’s possible money will be restored to the university budget before the Legislature gavels out of session, but with the session’s end weeks overdue already and the new fiscal year starting July 1, the university can’t afford to sit on its hands in the meantime and is moving ahead with what it considered a worst-case scenario when the session started.

If at all possible, the members of the Legislature should restore some of the university’s allocation this year, if for no other purpose than to afford a little more time for President Johnsen and the Board of Regents to put into place the changes and cost-cutting measures planned under the university’s Strategic Pathways plan. The items the university is pursuing — single accreditation, potential reductions in athletics programs, combining university departments and centralizing course offerings — will be hugely disruptive to not only the university’s day-to-day business but also could have significant negative impacts on classroom instruction. It’s hard to maintain a high-quality education experience when a department is moving across campus during the academic year, for instance, and the only professor who taught a handful of classes required for a major is being forced into an early retirement.

Many of the changes the university is considering could indeed make the system more efficient and cost-effective. Reducing duplication of offerings across campuses is an appropriate goal, and some of the university’s departments, such as the nursing program through UAA, show how that goal can be achieved with minimal disruption to students. But there’s no denying a 14 percent systemwide cut delivered mere weeks before the new fiscal year starts will have a major, immediate negative impact on university campuses and the communities they serve.

The university should by no means be immune from the cuts taking place throughout the state budget. But when tampering with the gears of the machinery that provide for the state’s future, a solution focused on a budget number rather than outcomes for students and the state could be damaging to a generation of Alaskans and have downstream effects far into the future. Given the magnitude of the changes the university is being told it must make, it would be only fair for the Legislature to afford the university funding that will allow them the time to make those changes responsibly.

— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,

May 15

More in Opinion

Jodi Taylor is the board chair for Alaska Policy Forum. (Courtesy photo)
Private school, state reimbursement: family choice

By Jodi Taylor Alaskan parents have a legitimate right to choose the… Continue reading

Opinion: It’s time for bold action to protect our fisheries

Our fisheries feed the world and sustain our unique cultures and communities.

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)
Voices of the Peninsula: Hard to fill positions?

Paying poverty wages to support staff, secretaries and custodians is unacceptable yet routine behavior by our district

A copy of the State of Alaska Official Ballot for the June 11, 2022, Special Primary Election is photographed on May 2, 2022. (Peninsula Clarion staff)
Choosing a candidate – Who will best represent us in D.C.?

Voters are encouraged to do homework before casting a vote

Tourists watch as one of two cubs belonging to an 18-year-old sow black bear crosses the path between groups of tourists visiting the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center on Wednesday, July 18, 2018. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Tourists have pushed us to critical mass in parts of Juneau

I don’t go to the glacier in the summer now to hike or watch bears.

Sens. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, left, and Robert Myers, R-North Pole, read through one of 41 amendments submitted to the state’s omnibus budget bill being debate on the floor of the Alaska State Senate on Monday, May 9, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Opinion: The Alaska Senate’s foolish gamble

“All these conservative people just spent all our money”

Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships. (logo provided)
Point of View: A few ideas for Mental Health Awareness Month

What are some things you can practice this month and subsequently apply to your life?

Smoke from the Swan Lake Fire impairs visibility on the Sterling Highway on Aug. 20, 2019. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Opinion: Alaskans should prepare for wildfire season

Several past large fire seasons followed snowy winters or unusually rainy springs

Most Read