UA Board of Regents votes for consolidation

(KTUU)
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - After a discussion with the Office of Management and Budget on how to execute a step-down reduction in size, the University of Alaska Board of Regents voted 8-3 to move towards combining the three universities into one single, accredited entity.

Regents O'Neill, Teuber, Davies, Buretta, Anderson, Hughes, Oneill and Bania supported the measure.

Regents Garrett, Hargrave and Parker voted in opposition.

During the meeting Jim Johnsen, the President of the UA system, stated that “You need to decide if the house is on fire or whether it’s just the toast burning. In my view, the house is on fire.”

Regent Mary K. Hughes added to that metaphor, "not only is our house on fire, but gasoline is being poured on the fire."

Through tears, Hughes was the board member that initially introduced the motion to consolidate, giving Johnson the directive which would begin a process of cutting costs through consolidation and the termination of duplicate courses and services. An amendment was made before the final vote, adding terms that limit all actions from being carried out until the board grants approval. An oversight subcommittee of regents will now work alongside Johnsen to come up with a new organizational structure.

Chancellors Cathy Sandeen (UAA), Daniel White (UAF) & Rick Caulfield (UAS) spoke in favor of a consortium model which would allow the universities to maintain independence while cooperating on "back office" issues. The board questioned chancellors on the matter before ultimately voting down a motion from Regent Lisa Parker to move forward with the consortium model while developing an eventual plan for consolidation.

When questioned on the separate universities being unwilling to work together in the past, UAF Chancellor White told regents that the trio had come up with the term "coopetition," while discussing ways to work together while still remaining competitive -- namely against colleges outside of Alaska.

Three hours into the meeting Gov. Mike Dunleavy called in to speak with the regents, pledging his office's willingness to continue working with the university on solving their budget woes in the most efficient manner. Afterwards, Policy Director Mike Barnhill appeared on behalf of the state Office of Management and Budget. The board questioned Barnhill on offers from the state to restore $40 million of the university's state funding while handing out the cuts over a two-year period.

Toward the end of their meeting, Johnsen urged regents to keep considering the timely nature of their decisions. At their last meeting, he pointed out that the decision to take no action is costing UA around $11 million a month. A week later the university declared exigency, but no clear action to curb spending has occurred.

“Even with an $80 million or $90 million cut, we’ve got to move out and make sure we’re saving serious money by January 1," Johnsen said, "Which means we have to have notice to people by the end of October, which means we need to have made decisions about who’s staying, who’s not.”

The UA Board of Regents is next slated to continue the discussion over UA's future during a September 12th meeting in Juneau.

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