A ‘devastated’ University of Alaska?




I read with interest the response to the Governor Dunleavy’s substantial veto of the University of Alaska’s state-funded budget. In particular, UA President Jim Johnsen called the reductions “devastating” and portrayed a situation that would lead to a spiraling down of the University. Mr. Johnsen was not alone.

The comments to several Anchorage Daily News articles were equally disparaging of those vetoes.

Several of the ADN commenters asserted that Mr. Johnsen had in the past referred to the University of Alaska as a “world class” university. Although Mr. Johnsen actually only used the term “world-class” with respect to research at UA, he did state that UA was keeping a “clear eye on academic excellence.”

If this is the case and not some self-serving fluff, then we should have educators at the UA with significant expertise, including those in public policy, government, finance and business.  I would also think that the UA has administrators with significant amount of practical expertise.

Furthering that line of thinking, if we have such educators and administrators, then dealing with a significant change in public policy and funding should not be nearly as daunting a task as Mr. Johnsen and Board of Regents Chairman John Davies assert.

That is not to say the university does not face significant and real challenges as a result of the governor’s vetoes. However, such qualified administrators and professors should surely be up to the challenge they face.  Perhaps rather than crying about the cuts and expending an all-out effort to have the vetoes overridden, the Board of Regents, administrators and professors should grab hold of the challenge and show just how capable the University of Alaska administration, faculty, and staff are.  Or are they only capable when there is plenty of money for every program and then some?

If Mr. Johnsen and the University of Alaska administration cannot make sound decisions that will ensure the university’s future with a reduced budget, then we can only conclude that they are not the capable administrators they alleged to be. Because a good administrator, let alone an excellent administrator, would simply move forward with identifying the core highest-demand education programs of the university and making sure those programs will remain the best they can be within the available budget. They would quickly announce the programs that would remain a priority within the university to alleviate concerns of those students entering or continuing on in those programs.

Similarly, they would make quick decisions, however painful, about which programs will be dropped so that students and the related faculty can make other plans. As part of the process they would take immediate steps to eliminate as many management levels and low-return functions as possible.

Successfully responding to significant budget cuts is not that daunting if a person is resolved to live within their given budget while remaining committed to offering quality, although reduced, education and research opportunities. The keys are attitude, determination, and willingness. Hard decisions, even politically incorrect decisions, will have to be made.

Unfortunately, not everyone is capable of making those difficult but necessary decisions. I have found that those people who scream the loudest when faced with difficult decisions are the least capable of making good decisions. The person who can best deal with such a challenge will simply start focusing on how to accomplish the goal, rather than bemoaning a dire situation.

Assuming Mr. Johnsen is an effective leader of a university with at least some “world-class” functions, he should get to work instead of bemoaning what lies ahead. If he isn’t up to the task or doesn’t have the stomach for it, then he should resign and let someone else step into that role. It is not that difficult to make good, albeit difficult, decisions.  You just have to be capable and willing.  Let’s see if Mr. Johnsen is both capable and willing to do so.

Tom Williams of Juneau is a 42-year resident of Alaska. He’s worked for aviation-related companies for the past 19 years, was director of two Department of Revenue divisions, including the Permanent Fund Dividend Division, and served on the staff of the Senate Finance and Legislative Budget and Audit committees.  As director of the Department of Revenue Enforcement Division during the significant decline in state oil revenues in the 1980s, he had to make significant reductions to his division’s budget.  He made the best informed and thought-out decisions he could, only to realize that his division provided as good or better service than before he was required to reduce the division’s budget.


  1. A leader should lead by example, take a 40% cut in pay, pay for all housing expenses for the mansion he is provided, drive his own car, spend time with each department and listen to all suggestions for cutting each budget, and most of all show a positive attitude.

    • Prez Johnsen makes about $400K per year, not counting bennies. How many at UA make over $200K? Hundreds.

  2. The author of this piece is an a—. Seriously, f— you. UA was one of the shining lights of Alaska. You are trivializing a 16% cut to a budget that has already been shrunk to a crazy degree. I moved to Alaska three years ago to attend UAF. After the first round of budget cuts, I saw the writing on the wall and transferred out of the state. I had many friends who did the same. ANYONE looking to go to Alaska for school is going to see this and reconsider. By strangling the university system every part of Alaska is going to be hurt. Less students coming in means less research money, less money being spent at small businesses, less money going towards tourist areas, and of course less tuition money. All for a $3,000 PFD. You, and anyone who supports this, are crazy.

    • Wow! Another hate filled lib. What were you going to do with a non-accredited degree from UA? Outhouse fodder? You are the crazy one if you think Alaskans owe you anything. We are much better off without people like you demanding Alaskans pay for anything pertaining to you, et.al. The bloated UA budget was/is a disgrace, and haters like you, right along with it. I suggest you go back where you came from and stay there.

      • I would bet Harrison is a student, or maybe even a staff member. More likely a student, as few staff lend themselves to profanities. If a student, then that just underscores my viewpoint that Alaska can live without U of A.

        • If you had actually read Harrisons post you’d know his status in the learning environment. maybe you didn’t pass 12 the grade Reading Comprehension? Jere

          • You’re correct, if i had read his entire post, I would have seen what you pointed out. However, I didn’t get past his first sentence. Your comment also underscores my viewpoint – Alaska can do without U of A.

    • I stopped reading when the name-calling started. Want to know why you are failing? Stop the potty-mouth; grow up.

    • Well, sign me up as crazy. Technology, AKA online education is in your future whether you like it or not. It is also the only way UA gets out of this mess of their own making. There is a wide array of Lower 48 Universities that offer courses and degrees via online coursework. UA has dabbled in it a bit, but needs to really expand its offerings.

      Technology is about to do to public education at all levels what Thomas Alva Edison did to the Community Bands and Community Theater Troupes 140 years ago. That train is already rolling. Either be on it or be under it, as you will never stop it. Cheers –

    • Harrison must be a UAF grad. Low vocabulary skills, no economic common sense, hateful, angry, low IQ. Harrison was probably in Terrence Cole’s classes and got high grades from Cole. Harrison represents the kind of garbage coming out of UAF.

  3. After the cuts to you at a the state contribution per-student at the university is still 11 thousand.

    • Carrie, with enrollment steadily declining, without further cuts, it will become higher and higher! Did you take algebra in school? If so you know the behavior of the function 1/x as x gets small. Calculate a few values and plot the graph to see what asymptotic approach to infinity looks like.

      • You’re saying that U of A is becoming cost-ineffective? Carrie is saying that U of A is already cost-ineffective. IMO U of A has always been cost-ineffective. It’s a white elephant.

  4. After what they did to the education students the university needs to rethink what they are saying. Lead by example and figure out a true way to cut and not hurt students. Cuts for all the highly paid administrators, chancellor, boards etc first; then seeks answers. Let’s see if they can be leaders and get moving on solving the problem and stop whining and crying the sky is falling. Everyone knew this was coming.

    • Teachers CAN function without administrators – Administrators CAN’T function without teachers.

  5. The State needs to make cuts with or without the Permanent Fund Dividend. It was never the State’s money to spend and should have never been considered as part of a fiscal solution. In the long run it is pocket change for the State and it will be blown away all the same. Our legislators have been spending out of their means for too long. Priorities need to be made and cuts along with them. Our current budget is not sustainable. Every aspect of the State needs to tighten their belt and spend more responsibly.

  6. Fewer classes, staff, and students will open up several buildings for alternate use. Business space wouldn’t take very much remodeling, Dormitories would make for great, modern rooming houses. U of A could then recover some of their budget loss, and keep a few more classes going.
    I doubt if they would even consider this possibility though, as it would mean that all their petty little fiefdom’s would be exposed as expendable. No, they have to pull up the drawbridges and defend to the bitter end.
    Their real problem though, is identical to that of Health and Social Services – Alaska can survive without, and not even miss either of them. Totally eliminating both would give us a huge surplus. We can subsidize sending our highschool graduates outside. When they get their degrees, most of them find work outside anyway. Our mentally ill can get better treatment, for less, outside.

  7. Mr. Williams, you failed to mention Mr. Johnsen’s world-class salary. Somewhere around $400k, I believe. He’d better be willing and capable if he wants that $75k annual bonus.

  8. heard some UAA administrator saying “the University was doing everything to keep all the programs in place while removing everything not needed.” (not a direct quote). Did they consider FIRING all the people who FAILED to do their job and let the Teacher Ed program lose it’s accreditation?

  9. Then, out of the blue, UAA and UAF find out the WCHA voted them off the island. “No inkling.” “Blindsided.” Kinda like the school of education losing its accreditation. There is a pattern here.

    I have absolutely no confidence Johnsen is willing or able to lead a turnaround. My feeling is the budget will be designed to inflict maximum pain on students and spare overhead.

  10. Teachers CAN function without administrators. Administrators CAN’T function without teachers.

  11. Dealing with a significant change in policy and funding IS easy, as long as you don’t care about all the folks who will lose a job because of it, the communities who will lose their only hub of higher education because of it, the drying up of hundreds of millions of dollars in grant money from outside being pumped into the Alaska economy as UA loses it’s reputation, or the departure of countless talented young Alaskans who suddenly decide to leave the state to pursue an education and never return to contribute to the Alaskan economy. Easy! Johnsen and the regents can (and will be forced to) EASILY make the changes needed to work within the new budget, they just recognize the pain it will bring to not just the university community, but to the entire state.

  12. A 16% budget cut is not something that any organization could realistically handle without major disruptions and cuts to their service/product.

    They will handle it. By closing campuses and departments.

  13. Republicans making massive cuts to education in a booming trump economy?


    Then again, they like their voters dumb.

    • Nice projection, that.

      The only political party that liked dumb voters are you democrats, which is why you are importing tens of millions of poor, uneducated people from Central America. Cheers –

  14. Let me amend my statement to somthing more accurate:

    Republicans making massive cuts to education in a booming trump economy so that billionaires can make an extra million here and there.

    THAT is shameful.

  15. Having worked at UAF for three years after coming from the defense industry I was appalled at the inefficiencies prevalent throughout UAF. Travel departments that would take up to 3 months for your travel reimbursement, multi-layers in the business area, especially for getting any type of contract done, too much bureaucracy.

    The Alaska Center for Unmanned Systems (ACUASI) was and still is a joke compared to other university programs involved in doing research for the FAA. They purchased 3 SeaHunter aircraft several years ago which I believe the cost was well over a million dollars and now they have purchased 10 Sentinel aircraft for what I would say is $14,000 to $17,000 each.

    The egos of the leadership of that group are incredible. They all made their decisions on: Ego, Motive, Ambition.

    • Interesting to hear those who do not face the reality of living within your income respond to the UA cuts. I was appointed to the Board of Regents (BOR) by Gov Bill Sheffield. I also was elected by the BOR to serve as their Board President for 4-5 years. Around 1985, the States income dropped due to oil revenues. Gov.Bill cut the state budget and looked to leaders in the Agencies & the University to do more.

      I proposed to the Board self examination in two areas.

      1) Cut the UA budget by $30 million. This would be done over a two year period the first was to take immediate cuts and use that money to reduce backlog maintenance. The second year to condense programs. I was voted down by fellow regents 1-9.

      2) PRIORITIZE UA programs- I make an extensive list of all UA programs, excluding basic classes (english, math, science) and asked my fellow regents to rate each program 1 to 4. 1 being highest value to ALASKA and its people. 4 being the programs with lowest value to ALASKA and its people. The result was one return, mine. You cannot manage any enterprise without prioritization. The BOR was unwilling to take that first step.

      Other things I discussed in the BOR meetings included.
      -Stop carrying unfilled positions in the budget. (I see the Village Safety Program suffers from this sickness as do many agencies) This practice is a budget inflator and has no place in management.

      -Hold maintenance managers accountable to their budget. This applies throughout public agencies. Obtaining Bond Money is nothing more than borrowing money. In my business life if I failed to forecast a new roof and not prepare the budget for it…I would have been fired!

      -UA faculty contract salary should be rated against faculty in other States as well as k-12 salaries and the market place. If we post a job for a faculty position and no one applies the pay might be too low. However, if many apply you can be sure the pay is too high.

      -UA faculty contract productivity needs to be overhauled. When I was a regent it was explain to me that faculty professors were given a “3- part” contract. 1 part- teaching, 1-part research, 1 part- service. The BOR combined the faculties at the community colleges with the three main University campuses. We specified 2-parts teaching 1 part research or service. As a result, we maintained the productivity (and the cost of University instruction. The UA system would increase teaching productivity 100% with 0% cost in every contract change to the 2-1 part plan. The highly productive research staff should be at 3 parts research and 0 parts teaching & service. However, to do that you need to know the State’s priorities and the value of each UA faculty member in each of the three area.

      -I supported rural campuses then and I do today. My belief was that the population of the Regional Native Corporations are the largest land holders in the State and it serves Alaskas best interest to offer a local path to post secondary education. I do not believe this mission is best solved by full professors and educator administrators. The productivity of each rural campus needs to be evaluated by an independent body that assures the rural mission is being met. This is best done in conjunction with co-operation of the Regional Native Corporations.

      -WAMI is a great program for its medical supporters. I recommended we get replace WAMI with a cost effective program that prioritizes the needs of Alaska. No one stepped up to consider that idea. In fact after proposing the WAMI cut from UA, I received calls from Alaska State Senators who said that if UA cut WAMI, the legislator would remove the funding a create a separate WAMI Agency. So much for self examination. I still believe if we prioritize this medical needs area, it could be done for a far lower cost.

      -Where is the dream of distant delivery? One great exciting online economics professor can do more then 10 boring professors with little imagination. Maybe AU should contract other Universities to deliver on-line degrees. They would need to have quality. And should cost a fraction of the current in classroom delivery. Lets face it, Plato & Socrates & Aristotle started the classroom style of stand and deliver professors. That was 2,000+ years ago. Are there any better ideas today? Where is the innovation today? We have digital tools and no imagination!

      -Who is managing the University? And where is the future-looking leaders we need? In the mid 1980s I told the BOR we were heading toward a BRICK WALL. The distance to the wall would decrease as the price of oil fluctuated down and as the volume continued to drop. That advice was 33 years ago. I had seen little action to soften the meeting with the BRICK WALL. Not from the regents, not from the administration not from the legislators…………people of our great State need to start looking elsewhere for leadership….the current leadership has FAILED.

      These are personal thoughts and observations from my being in the University trenches for 8 years. Most of these observations may be able to be applied to all State of Alaska services.

      It is about Managing to Achieve Measured Performance

      it is never too later to start….especially when we have ignored it for so long. Thank you Governor Dunleavy for your efforts to START.

  16. Cry me a river!
    The “president’ of Alaska’s third-rate excuse for a state-sponsored college tells the state senate, “”I’m not going to negotiate “I’m here to advocate the regents’ budget for what the regents believe is necessary to provide higher education…”.
    This is the college where falling enrollment, low graduation rates, and a program that lost its national accreditation are norms, but whose so-called administration believe they should be rewarded with however much money they wish.
    The problem is fixable, but not by, or with, current college management, or it would have been fixed by now, no?
    The problem won’t be fixed by painting it over with truckloads of money, otherwise productive Alaskans would have been told how much they will be forced to pay in order to transform their backwater land-grant college into a world-class university.
    A college “president’ who says, “”I’m not going to negotiate “I’m here to advocate the regents’ budget…” while the college falls down around him needs to go, along with every management official.
    What do you say we “negotiate” that, Jim?

  17. dunleavy’s UA budget is 32.6% LESS than the 2001 inflation adjusted UA budget, 40.2% less than the 2002 inflation adjusted UA budget. A 2020 PFD 32.6% less than the 2001 inflation adjusted PFD would be $1850.

Comments are closed.