UA President Johnsen announces hiring and travel freeze after 'devastating' Dunleavy budget veto

Published: Jun. 28, 2019 at 2:14 PM AKDT
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University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen announced a hiring and travel freeze at a press event on Friday afternoon, following the announcement of line-item vetoes from Gov. Michael Dunleavy.

He also announced that all university staff are getting a 60-day notice of furlough. "There’ll be a number of other aggressive cost management steps to be taken immediately," Johnsen said.

Dunleavy announced that he would line-item veto $130 million from the state's funding for the University of Alaska from the Legislature's approved budget. The veto is along the lines of the governor's original budget proposal he made in February.

President Johnsen called the governor's veto a "devastating reduction."

He said that in response to the governor's cuts, the UA Board of Regents voted to give Johnsen "authority to make interim decisions that are consistent with budget reductions."

The Legislature can still override each of the governor's line-item vetoes with a three-quarter majority of members, and Johnsen said advocacy will be a huge priority in the coming weeks.

"It’s gonna be an ambidextrous process," he said, "We’re gonna be advocating hard."

If the veto is upheld, the University faces a tough road. Johnsen outlined the plan if it is held, which would require Johnsen take a request of an unprecedented declaration of "financial exigency" to the Board of Regents on July 15. This provision would allow the university to start making cuts.

"So instead, for example, of providing a year's notice for tenured faculty, members that his or her position has been terminated, that notice period is 60 days. Instead of going through a very extensive planning process and evaluation process for making the decision, that’s not required under financial exigency," said Johnsen.

He said the university has never had to make such a declaration, "but given a number this big and the need to capture those savings as quickly as we'll need to, there is probably no other option."

By the end of July, Johnsen said he would go back to the board with "real detail into what programs would be discontinued or eliminated."

It could mean up to 1,300 jobs statewide, according to numbers Johnsen cited numbers from the Institute of Social and Economic Research.

Johnsen said that the university had been largely blindsided by the scale of the cuts. While he said that state administrators had been planning on some level of cuts, "there’s no way to rationally plan for a cut of that impact."

He said administrators planned for an option of forty to sixty million dollar cuts as a worst case scenario, which would have allowed administrators to plan -- with public and faculty input -- for the cuts. That plan was called "exceptional expedited program review" and would have put the final reduction proposal to the Board of Regents in October.

But with the "huge" number in the Dunleavy veto, that wasn't an option.

"A rational approach cant be taken," he said. "An approach that minimizes the impact on students can’t be taken. Just finding nickels and dimes can't be successful."

Johnsen also described several meetings with Gov. Dunleavy in the last several months, which he said he thought were "very constructive," but at which he described stark disagreement with the governor's administration about the University of Alaska's operational costs compared with those of other universities in other states.

"There wasn't any negotiation at all with the governor’s office," he said. "It was mostly just yours truly advocating for the interest of the university."

This is a developing story. Stay tuned for more updates.
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