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University of Alaska regents explore campus reorganizations

July 31, 2019
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University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen speaks at a UA Board of Regents meeting, Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in Anchorage, Alaska. Facing severe budget cuts, regents voted 8-3 to authorize Johnsen to immediately reduce administrative costs and prepare a plan for a transition from three accredited institutions to one. (AP Photo/Dan Joling)
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University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen speaks at a UA Board of Regents meeting, Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in Anchorage, Alaska. Facing severe budget cuts, regents voted 8-3 to authorize Johnsen to immediately reduce administrative costs and prepare a plan for a transition from three accredited institutions to one. (AP Photo/Dan Joling)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The University of Alaska has taken its first steps toward consolidating its three accredited campuses into a single entity.

Facing severe budget cuts as a result of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s veto pen, the UA Board of Regents voted Tuesday to authorize President Jim Johnsen to immediately reduce administrative costs and prepare a plan for a transition to a single institution.

Johnsen painted a dire financial picture for the university and said delaying a decision would compound the size of the cuts to be made later this year.

“You need to decide if the house is on fire or whether it’s just the toast burning,” he said. “In my view, the house is on fire.”

Dunleavy last month vetoed $130 million in state funding for the university on top of a $5 million reduction by the Legislature.

That left the university only a few days before the start of the new fiscal year to decide how to cope with a 41% reduction in state funding.

Johnson had offered three alternatives: cut entire campuses, cut each campus proportionately, or come up with a reimagined university structure that makes strategic cuts with fewer programs and administrators.

It also potentially sacrifices the identities of accredited colleges in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Juneau and could affect accreditation.

Chancellors at the main campuses gave regents an alternative.

Anchorage Chancellor Cathy Sandeen said she, Fairbanks Chancellor Daniel White and Southeast Chancellor Rick Caulfield over the weekend planned how each campus could make cuts. At UAA, for example, she listed reduction in travel, athletics, academic programs and other categories to reduce her budget by $50 million. White came up with $68 million in cuts in Fairbanks and Caulfield listed $10 million in cuts in Juneau.

Regent Lisa Parker said chancellors were in a strong position to know where to reduce their budgets. She said the plan to consolidate would take excessive time and cost money the university does not have.

Regents rejected the chancellors’ plan and instead authorized Johnsen to prepare a transition, in consultation with faculty, students and staff, that could be considered at their meeting in September.

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