The new director of Kodiak College, selected in May, has resigned due to state budget cuts to Alaska’s public universities.
Jessica Paugh was scheduled to begin her tenure as director of Kodiak College, an extension of the University of Alaska Anchorage, on Aug. 12. However, on July 31 she emailed UAA Chancellor Cathy Sandeen to inform her that she will not be filling the role due to the severe cuts in state funding.
“I have spent days agonizing over this decision and, in light of the unprecedented drastic budget constraints and pending changes to the university, I cannot uproot my life to come to Alaska with a very bleak future ahead,” Paugh wrote in an email to Sandeen.
“This is also difficult as I feel a great sense of obligation to the team in Kodiak,” Paugh wrote. However, she added that she now views the position in Kodiak as “a soul crushing role in a very isolated situation.”
Paugh was selected for the position in May after a months-long search. Prior to accepting the position at Kodiak College, she was an assistant dean at Colorado Mountain College in Rifle, Colorado.
Interim Director of Kodiak College Betty Walters sent an email to college faculty and staff on July 31 informing them of Paugh’s decision.
“Please be assured that faculty and staff will move forward with registration and start of the fall semester welcoming Kodiak College new and returning students with the usual excitement and enthusiasm,” Walters wrote.
In an interview with the Kodiak Daily Mirror, Walters stressed the importance of maintaining a positive attitude ahead of the upcoming semester, which begins at Kodiak College on Aug. 26.
“I wish I had an opportunity to tell (Paugh) that it’s okay. We may have less money, but we will survive. We will have a full semester and hopefully we will straighten it all out,” Walters said.
State budget cuts to University of Alaska amounted to $135 million for the current fiscal year, translating to an unprecedented 41% cut in state funding. However, the Alaska Legislature has approved a bill restoring $110 million in state funding to UA. It is now up to Governor Mike Dunleavy to decide whether he will approve that funding or veto it. Dunleavy has 20 days to veto any part of the bill before it becomes law.
In response to budget cuts, University of Alaska regents voted last week to consolidate the university system, which currently includes separate accreditations for University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Alaska Fairbanks and University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau.
Kodiak College, under the UAA umbrella, offers a general associate’s degree program, in addition to programs in nursing, education, and welding, among others. The college also has outreach programs to the Coast Guard, Kodiak Senior Center, local schools and Kodiak’s rural communities.
Walters said that the Kodiak College staff has already seen the impacts of the state budget cuts. The college has cut back on everything from hiring new staff to ink cartridges.
“It will not only be the three major campuses, but the rural campuses are there as well,” Walters said about where the budget cuts will hit. “Anything we would normally order is not being ordered unless it is an emergency or absolutely necessary.”
When the college’s testing center needed new ink for their printers, at a cost of $125, Walters initially denied their request. Only when it became obvious that the testing center couldn’t operate, did she relent.
“We are watching everything we spend and making sure we are not doing anything that will keep faculty from coming back and having the great year that they planned on in May,” Walters said.
Despite budget constraints, course registration is open, and classes are filling up.
The college is supported by a private donor who funds newspaper and radio ads to advertise the college’s enrollment period, which has already begun and will end on Aug. 23, according to Walters.
“What I’m trying to do is keep everybody looking forward. Keep that positive welcoming attitude,” Walters said. “We will have less money, but we will have an active campus.”
Enrolled students can still participate in planned orientation events scheduled for later this month, but “instead of having three slices of pizza, maybe everyone will have one slice of pizza,” Walters said.
Walters intends to continue filling the position of college director for as long as necessary. However, the decision on the future hiring process will be made by the UAA chancellor.
Keli Hite McGee, chief human resources officer for the University of Alaska, said that the process of selecting a new director has not begun yet, but university administrators are aware of Paugh’s resignation.
“Leadership is very mindful of hiring in our current situation. We will work collaboratively with Kodiak College administrators as we consider next steps to meet their needs once the university’s hiring freeze is lifted. Although there is much uncertainty at this time, university leadership is developing a plan for academics and administration,” Hite McGee said in a statement to KDM.
Neither the chancellor’s office nor Walters knew if Paugh’s resignation would result in the creation of a new search committee.
In order to select Paugh, the original search committee, made up of Kodiak community representatives and Director of Prince William Sound Colle Dan O’Connor, reviewed 50 applications, interviewed eight candidates and ultimately invited three of them to visit Kodiak in May, Walters said. Paugh was selected at the end of that process by Chancellor Sandeen.
Walters has acted as interim director of the college since October, when the previous director, Alan Fugleberg, retired.
Prior to her appointment as interim director, Walters served as superintendent of the Kodiak Island Borough School District for more than a decade, and as an adjunct instructor for UAA and Kodiak College.
“I am not the type to pack my bags, and the community knows that,” Walters said.