Proposed university budget could lead to loss of programs and campuses

On February 13th, Governor Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget for the 2020 fiscal year went public.  Included in this proposal was a $134 million decrease in the operating budget for the University of Alaska system from the current fiscal year.  This would drop the budget by about 41% from what is currently available, leaving the university with a budget of $193 million.  In an email concerning the proposed budget changes, University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen discussed the drastic negative effect they would have on the University of Alaska.

“Cuts at this level cannot simply be managed or accommodated,” stated Johnsen. “If this budget passes the legislature, it will devastate university programs and services, and the negative effects will be felt in communities across the entire state.”

This is far from the first time that the university system has faced budget cuts in recent years.  Johnsen discussed the impact recent cuts have had on the university’s operations during a press conference on February 13th.

“UA has taken cuts four out of the last five years, we’ve laid off over 1,200 faculty and staff, we have cut over 50 academic and degree certificate programs.  We have been forced to raise tuition and we have watched our enrollment decline. So we know how it is, how cuts can be managed, and we know the negative impacts that cuts have on us, on our students, on employers of our students, on communities where our people live, and on our state.” Johnsen said.  “A cut this big, though, can’t simply be managed while maintaining campuses and services and programs across Alaska.”

In the past, the university system has faced multiple removals and combinings of programs.  However, with the amended budget proposed by Governer Dunleavy, university programs might not be the only thing being cut to make ends meet.  Many employees of the university would lose their jobs, enough that entire departments or even campuses would be affected.

“I am confident we’ll need to close campuses if this budget makes it all the way through the legislative process.” stated Johnsen.  “Again, we’ll need to eliminate a lot of programs, we will reduce services, no question about that.”

Elaborating on the magnitude of the cut, Johnsen compared it to the costs of running campuses around the state of Alaska.  “We have thirteen community campuses across the state, that’s only $38 million there.  Closing all of our community campuses is just $38 million, that’s not even a third of what this cut is.  All of UAA is $120 million, so closing the entire UAA campus does not meet this cut.”

“As a result of these proposed budget cuts we are heading into an extremely uncertain time.  There are going to be a lot of discussions, there’s going to be lots of options on the table, there are going to be lists with programs and names, and so a lot of uncertainty going forward.” stated Johnsen, acknowledging the difficult path ahead for the University.

In his closing remarks, Johnsen encouraged cooperation among the members of the University of Alaska system, as well as hope for the future.

“There will be a University of Alaska next year, and ten years from now, and twenty years from now.  Our state needs us, we may be less of what we are today but our state absolutely needs us.  And so what we need to focus on during this time is students, and our mission.” Johnsen continued, “And we also need to take care of each other.  What often happens in difficult organizational climates like we’re heading into is people start cheating inwards.  Elbows get real sharp, and there’s a lot of anxiety and tension and competition within the organization.”

If you wish to contact Governer Dunleavy concerning these budget cuts, you can do so at the official Office of the Governor page located here.