Board of Regents pause look at single accreditation

Board Chair John Davies and University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen speak at a meeting on Sept. 13, 2019.
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - At an emergency meeting, the University of Alaska Board of Regents voted to stop a planned look at consolidating the three universities into one, as well as to stop the statewide academic program review.

The vote was an apparent reversal from previous discussions about single accreditation, which was originally proposed on July 30 as an effort to account for a then-$130 million budget shortage. The vote put the review on hold until UAF's accreditation for 2021 is completed.

Shortly thereafter, the board voted to suspend a statewide academic program review, though each university is still separately reviewing their programs for cost-savings. That vote followed a lengthy discussion and paring-down of a broad motion proposal that would have suspended all discussions of administrative consolidation, virtual town halls, public presentations, and take down the New UA website.

The board's emergency meeting was called after the regional accrediting agency, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), sent a letter detailing concerns about the individual universities' independent governance during discussions about dealing with a $25 million budget reduction for each of the next three years.

With regents coming from around the state, the meeting wrapped up abruptly as some regents left to catch flights.

"It was a fairly confusing end to the meeting," said University of Alaska Fairbanks Chancellor Dan White at a UAF Faculty Senate Meeting shortly thereafter.

He said outside of the suspension of the look at single accreditation and the end to the statewide academic program review, "It's not entirely clear what is being canceled" but that the two motions that were passed were important.

"With these two motions today, that really changes the landscape as to what we can do moving forward," he said.

White said that he believed that individual academic program reviews would continue, but that because it was already into the academic year, it is unlikely that academic programs will be affected.

"I don’t see much additional from academic units, just because the timing doesn’t work," he said. White said that he had already delivered an expedited review proposal on behalf of UAF to UA president Johnsen outlining cost-saving proposals.

Another issue under discussion at the review was how to respond to the NWCCU's letter outlining concerns about the current program review - whether the Board of Regents should be responsible or whether the chancellors of each university should be responsible for submitting a response by an Oct. 31 deadline.

White said it is important because it determines who is responsible for accreditation - the universities or the board - something that has been central to discussions about the current governance structure of the university and the possibility of single accreditation going forward.

NWCCU President Sonny Ramaswamy answered questions about the letter during the beginning of the meeting and outlined concerns. He admonished the board to find a way to engage students and faculty.

"Whatever that avatar that is gonna develop, please, bring them all together," he said. "That's what we're asking for: clarification not so much to us as much as it is to the community that you're trying to pull together."

At the same time, he clarified that the letter was not threatening any immediate risk to the accreditation of any of the universities.

"My intent in sending that letter was really to, as I said to you previously, was to hold a mirror up and put the red flags up to remind you that there are potential challenges that you'll be facing, your institution will be facing," he said.

"The accreditation per se is not in jeopardy. It's not sort of a do or die right now."

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