Gov. Mike Dunleavy and University of Alaska leaders announced an agreement Tuesday to implement a $70 million cut to the university system over a three-year period. The agreement replaces the governor’s original intention to cut $136 million in state funding to the UA system in the course of a year.
The agreement stipulates that UA’s budget will be reduced by $25 million for the fiscal year that began July 1, according to a news release from the governor’s office. Budgets submitted to the governor by the Board of Regents over the next two fiscal years will reflect $45 million in additional reductions.
The agreement was signed by University of Alaska Board of Regents Chairman John Davies and Dunleavy.
“This agreement, worked out following a number of budget discussions by the Board of Regents, provides a clear, gradual multiyear year funding glide path,” Davies said at the signing event in the governor’s office in Anchorage. “Most importantly, the supplemental operating budget provides much more certainty and confidence for our students, staff, faculty, and the communities we serve.”
Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said that meeting Dunleavy’s original budget reductions would have meant firing more than half the UA faculty.
“I’m really pleased that common sense has prevailed,” Stevens said to the Kodiak Daily Mirror after the governor’s announcement. “The original cut would have been a real disaster for our kids and adults.”
“It’s good to see that the governor has seen common sense for not tearing the state apart,” Stevens added. “There was no real good answer to why he did it.”
Stevens noted that the UA system has already suffered because of Dunleavy’s original announcement, with some students and faculty choosing to go elsewhere.
One consequence of Dunleavy’s original cuts was that the decision of newly selected Director of Kodiak College Jessica Paugh not to accept the position.
Paugh was scheduled to begin her tenure as college director on Aug. 12. However, on July 31, she emailed University of Alaska Anchorage Chancellor Cathy Sandeen to inform her that she will not be filling the role due to severe cuts in state funding.
“I understand she was pretty outstanding and would have been a great director,” Sen. Stevens said. “It is a shame to lose someone of high caliber for our local campus.”
“It’s an example of what the angst has caused, with people deciding not to come to a system that is being destroyed,” Stevens said.
Interim Director of Kodiak College Betty Walters will continue to occupy the position until a permanent director is selected.
“I’m eternally grateful,” Walters said in response to the governor’s announcement, noting that the college will continue to look for ways to operate more efficiently and reduce expenses. “I’m not sure what $25 millions means across the entire system. We will work appropriately within those parameters and we will continue to offer students the greatest education they can get on the island.”
“I am sure my faculty, staff, and importantly, students and community members, are somewhat relieved to know it is not as devastating as we might have expected,” she said.
Dunleavy said that he never intended to cause angst to students and faculty associated with UA.
“As an educator, a father and a graduate of the University of Alaska, I believe in a strong university,” Dunleavy said. “I also believe we must balance state support for the UA system with the very serious fiscal situation we face today. This agreement, which comes after extensive conversations and work with the university, is an honest attempt at balancing both realities.”
Discussions regarding the three-year “compact agreement” between the governor and the university began after the July 30 Board of Regents meeting, and were held during multiple meetings between the governor’s office and university officials, according to the governor’s news release.
According to UA President Kim Johnsen, who was present at the signing of the agreement, a $70 million reduction, even over three years, is still a serious reduction.
“It will require careful review and streamlining of administrative structure, academic programs, and services to ensure that resources are focused on student access and achievement,” Johnsen said. “But by restoring the legislature’s appropriated funding for this fiscal year, and by spreading reductions out over the next two years, the required restructuring can be done more methodically, with less impact on students.”