University of Alaska’s regents delay UAS merger decision to study possible impacts

 University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen speaks before the Board of Regents on July 15th.
University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen speaks before the Board of Regents on July 15th. (KTUU)
Published: Jun. 4, 2020 at 1:54 PM AKDT
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The University of Alaska Board of Regents has delayed a decision on whether to merge the University of Alaska Southeast with one, or both, of the system’s two other universities.

Regent Dale Anderson successfully introduced a motion Thursday morning to study the impacts of what the merger might mean. A final report on the proposed UAS merger is due Oct. 15.

On Tuesday, the regents heard

on the consolidation plan with a majority of callers coming out strongly against the idea.

At the Thursday meeting, UA President Jim Johnsen introduced restructuring options for the university that included the UAS consolidation plan. He admitted the options had been expedited and that there was “not enough time to do a full and complete analysis” of their impacts.

According to documents presented to the board, there would only be modest savings if most UAS staff and faculty are retained through the proposed merger. “Large cost reductions would require large reductions in faculty and staff,” Johnsen’s presentation read.

An initial estimate from the UA president was that the merger could save the University of Alaska $15 million.

Outgoing UAS Chancellor Rick Caulfield said a $15 million cut would equate to a two-thirds reduction in funding for UAS. Speaking after Thursday morning’s session, Caulfield was ambivalent about the decision to delay approving the UAS merger plan, saying he hoped the regents would take it off the table entirely.

In October, the Board of Regents abandoned a proposal to bring the system's three universities

presented to the board on Thursday were said to not be viable or achievable in a short time frame. Those options include consolidating community campuses into UAS or consolidating IT services across the university.

The need to make drastic cuts at the University of Alaska comes after Gov. Mike Dunleavy and John Davies, the former chairman of the Board of Regents, agreed to a

cut to the university’s budget over three years. The compact came after Dunleavy initially vetoed $135 million from the university’s budget in a single year.

To make the $25 million cut required in the fiscal year starting on July 1, regents are also set to debate cutting 41 programs across the university system. Eliminating the earmarked programs would save an estimated $4 million.

Other cost-cutting measures presented to the regents include suspending a pay rise for faculty and staff, and restructuring and refinancing the university’s debt.

Expected costs associated with combating COVID-19 are also exacerbating the university’s fiscal challenges. Johnsen asked the regents on Thursday to approve $25 million in one-time spending from the university’s general fund to cope with the pandemic.

Additional federal funding could help the university with coronavirus-related costs, Johnsen said.

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