Accreditor has UA system on notice over governance issues - Must Read Alaska
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Sunday, December 15, 2019
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Accreditor has UA system on notice over governance issues

A major university accreditation organization has put the University of Alaska system on notice in a vague letter that refers to unspecified media reports and undocumented conversations that accreditors had with university stakeholders in Fairbanks.

In a letter to leaders of the university, including the president, chancellors, and the Board of Regents, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities said that after its on-the-ground observations and interactions with university stakeholders in Fairbanks, “we are concerned that the University of Alaska Fairbanks, University of Alaska Anchorage, and University of Alaska Southeast have failed to meet the above critical Standards for Accreditation, in accordance with the United States Department of Education’s 34 CFR Part 602.”

Those standards that the NWCCU require include, “ … the division of authority and responsibility between the system and the institution is clearly delineated. System policies, regulations, and procedures concerning the institution are clearly defined and equitably administered,” the letter states.

Additionally, the standards require “the institution demonstrates an effective and widely understood system of governance with clearly defined authority, roles, and responsibilities. Its decision-making structures and processes make provision for the consideration of the views of faculty, staff, administrators, and students on matters in which they have a direct and reasonable interest.”

The NWCCU letter doesn’t specify which media reports it gleaned information from, or what precise infractions of standards have been committed or by whom.

“We respectfully urge you to take immediate steps to provide clarity around the authority, roles, and responsibilities of the University of Alaska System and its respective institutions and their leadership. We also respectfully urge you to continue to create a space for inclusive dialogue as the Board of Regents deliberates on the future structure of the University of Alaska System,” NWCCU’s letter continues.

“NWCCU continues to assert the importance of the Board of Regents as an independent governing body, and respects that Board ’s ultimate authority related to the structure and future structure of the University of Alaska System. However, we also must assert the importance of an inclusive decision-making process that respects the tenets of shared governance in the process. We ask that you take immediate action, and that the institutions report either collectively or individually to the Commission on the results of your efforts in an Ad Hoc report, no later than October 31, 2019.”

 The Board of Regents will hold an emergency meeting to address the issues raised. The regular Board of Regents meeting is scheduled for Oct. 31 in Fairbanks.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Almost a BILLION of State of AK dollars every year(!!!), and this is what they have to show for it(!!!) … Disappointing and Shameful.

    • Why does it feel like somebody from UA went to the accreditation people and said “Hey! Look at us!” ?

      • Exactly! What budget cuts? The ones that were rescinded.? It looks and feels like a contrived criticism with its lack of specificity, generalizations, convenient and matching talking points.

        • What budget cuts?

          UA budget cuts history:

          Starting with FY 2014, UGF funding to UA in millions of dollars of the year: $378, $375, $350.7, $324.8, $317.0, $316.9, $302*, $277*,$257*

          * FY 20 – FY22 per an agreement between Dunleavey and Regents which is not binding on the States appropriating body – the Legislature.

        • Um. I’m guessing the 25 million cut? The threats to cut 45 million more? Those cuts.

  • Rob B – Where’d you get that “almost a BILLION of State of AK dollars every year(!!!)” BS?? Get your facts straight before displaying in public.Disappointing and Shameful!

    The University costs the state a hell of a lot less than a billion $/year and that has been declining for at least five years. But it does bring in a significant fraction of a billion$ each year.

    • Here is one fact…..the return on our money is an 8 percent graduation rate. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

      • A low graduation rate is to be expected in Alaska.

        You assume all who enter INTEND to graduate which is certainly a false assumption.

        The UA has to take admit that apply from anywhere in Alaska. Look at the high school performance data and you may understand why many do not graduate. Chew on that.

        Every dollar which comes into the state economy through the University runs around multiple time – some say 6 or 7 thus multiplying the economic impact.

        • Exactly. The 8 percent rate is:
          .
          a — bogus. Take a look the UA websites for the real numbers
          .
          b — part of an open enrollment university. You can just take an art class for fun with no intention to graduate.

  • Wow now what are they gonna say about all these cuts being unnecessary.. Kinda looks like it was necessary… Shame on you UA.

    • Sometimes it’s a difficult to be polite . . . but I’ll try.
      .
      You are almost perfectly mistaken. The agency in charge of accreditation is saying that the cuts are the problem. The. Cuts. Are. The. Problem.
      .
      Not according to Adam. According to the agency who has final say.

      • Should have cut them long before now. Their poor graduation rate in unexcused, and their loss of academic accreditation in a Dept is inept.

        • I could be wrong but I believe state funding was about 350 million, out of a total University budget of 920 million or so- and while the university had agreed to a 5 million cut before Dunleavy’s proposed cuts, of 140 million, originally they had proposed about a 9% increase in funding… so a bit of a tone deaf original position on the part of the university in this current environment.. to say the least..

          Dunleavy put a strong number on the table for cuts, it appears to either force them to work within their means or work with the state on working within their means, and they chose the latter. I think the total cuts now are about 70-90 million over 3 years so less than the 140 the governor originally proposed but ending up with about 5x what the legislature wanted or the university system was prepared to accept.

          Many parties are angry, and it’s easy to see why; This sets a dangerous precedent for those who become wealthy off of inflated subsidies to institutions with little to no oversight and who have no accountability for using those funds responsibly.

          In this case, you have an institution that is, objectively, extremely bureaucratically and administratively heavy, Adding to cost, and who holds many buildings, structures and lands that not only provide no revenue but who also add unnecessary cost to their annual budget due to upkeep.

          ..So reductions and restructuring seem to be more than reasonable, they would appear to be a dire necessity.

          It also appears, they don’t deliver as good of a product as they once did, and they are failing to recruit outside students as rigorously as they had in the past. It is that outside recruitment that helps with tuition revenue and also benefits the communities in which these campuses are located. To the outside objective observer, it is and was appearing more and more like the school existed primarily for the enrichment of its administrators and faculty, secondarily as an option for undirected local post high school youth, And, distantly tertiary, to recruit new students from other states based on a quality education.

          So it seems entirely reasonable that for the health of the state (that is a significant donor), and for the health of the institution itself, that changes, restructuring, and eliminating waste, would be a good course of action.

          Again tho, following this logic, could lead to other states doing likewise, and it would appear this accrediting body wants to discourage that sort of accountability.

      • That’s not what the letter they wrote said.

        Period. Not. What. The. Letter. Said. Period.

        • Here’s what the letter said about funding.

          “I write to share the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities’ (NWCCU) support for the students of Alaska and to express my continued concern as to the ongoing efforts to respond to the funding challenges faced by the state’s institutions of higher learning.”

          “While NWCCU remains concerned about the long-term consequences of reduced funding as it relates to student learning and educational attainment, today I write based on NWCCU Senior Vice President Mac Powell’s on-the-ground observations developed during the last several days
          of interactions with the myriad stakeholders in Fairbanks and concerns related to the governance
          of the state’s independently accredited institutions.”

          Point of fact, reduced funding and the budget cuts from the State are not the same thing. Funding levels can be raised in any number of ways. The State isn’t the only source of funding for the UA system. This letter clearly states that the subject is not about any reduced funding but towards “the ongoing efforts to respond to the funding challenges” and “concerns related to the governance of the state’s independently accredited institutions.”

          This letter is very clearly not about the state budget cuts but the management, or more appropriately mismanagement, of the system.

          • Thanks for engaging.
            .
            I get where you are coming from, I do but I don’t think it’s realistic.
            .
            On the letter being about the budget cuts: it says that the concerns expressed in the last letter have not gone away and that means budget cuts. I would link to the letter but I’ve found that when I post links my posts don’t appear.
            .
            On budget cuts — I know the Dunleavy (Arduin) line is that if you cut state funds those can come from other sources. But that theory has no evidence behind it. Arduin tried that in California — and Schwarzenegger fired her for it. Evidence shows that when the state pulls out you *sometimes* get a small bump in donations that levels out over coming years. Sometimes you have a dip in donations because your fundraisers are busy dealing with the cuts and not spending time raising money.
            .
            “Hey, give us some money. 70 million would be nice. We don’t know what the university will look like 3 years from now. Or if we will even if we will have one. We may even eliminate the department that gave your degree. Checks are fine but cash is appreciated.”
            .
            It’s nice bedtime story — cut public funding and the private sector will rush in. But the story isn’t real.

        • You are mistaken.
          .
          The first part is boiler plate, throat clearing.
          .
          Interpret this letter for me: “I know we are both property owners and we both love dogs. As such we have right to what we will on our own property and raise our dogs as we see fit. However, this does not mean that you can ignore your responsibilities as a dog owner and neighbor. Please train your dog not to bark through the night. If you do not I may not agree to any requests you make in the future ”
          .
          Can you look past the first few sentences? Answer: yes. Why are they there? Standard rhetorical structure.
          .
          Seriously — at the last regents meeting all but one of the speakers 31-1 spoke against the merger. At the special meeting at UAA, everyone spoke against the merger. Nonetheless we are still on the governor ‘plan’. This is what the accrediting agency is upset about.

          • Adam,

            What letter are you reading and quoting from? It’s not the one sent by NWCCU to UA. As I previously said, this letter is very clearly not about the state budget cuts but the management, or more appropriately mismanagement, of the system.

  • It’s not vague as much as it’s overly polite.
    .
    “However, we also must assert the importance of an inclusive decision-making process that respects the tenets of shared governance in the process. ”
    .
    Translation — stop ignoring faculty, students, staff and administrators who are overwhelmingly opposed to the decisions you are making. Stop making a sham of shared governance.

    • You can’t simply overlook the beginning of the paragraph…you know the part before the word however. Here is what is said. “NWCCU continues to assert the importance of the Board of Regents as an independent governing body, and respects that Board’s ultimate authority related to the structure and future structure of the University of Alaska System.”

      • What do you think it means when the letter says NWCCU “respects that Board’s ultimate authority” when talking about the Board of Regents after it said “We respectfully urge you to take immediate steps to provide clarity around the authority, roles, and responsibilities of the University of Alaska System and its respective institutions and their leadership.”. It’s pretty clear to me what the letter says, but you seem to have misread it.

        • Likewise, I think you are mistaking the throat clearing for the thesis. “You may have the right to do this, but you also have other obligations. If you do not fulfill those other obligations we won’t be happy.”

          • Where is that quote from? You know how quotes work right? You can’t use quotes and just pretend that something was said that wasn’t said. Nowhere in the letter from NWCCU did they say what you quoted. I makes sense though, how you’ve managed to completely misunderstand this letter. You read something, then remove the parts you don’t like and substitute your own thoughts. Read the letter, don’t tell us what you want to hear.

          • Ya, its about the money but it is also about the Governor! Read the whole letter here – carefully. http://media.graytvinc.com/documents/NWCCU+Letter+Univ+Alaska+BOR_07292019.pdf “NWCCU remains concerned about the long-term consequences of reduced funding as it relates
            to student learning and educational attainment. The additional and, perhaps, inappropriate strongarm
            “guidance” of the Alaska Governor in place of the proper and shared-decision making
            processes central to the healthy functioning of an institution of higher learning poses yet another
            factor as NWCCU considers the long-term viability and accreditation status of the institutions
            within your stewardship.” The Governor has been “after” UA since he took office.

          • Jere,

            It seems you also don’t know how quotes work.

            .

            Not to mention you are talking about a different letter altogether. Here is the letter we are talking about. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6433504-2019-09-26-AlaskaBoard9-26-19.html

          • Jere,

            My apologies, you used quotations correctly. You were just quoting a completely different letter than the one that is subject of this discussion.

          • Steve-O: Oooops! Sorry about that. It would have not happened had the original article presented the link to THE letter. Could that been the source of other confusion in this thread? Anyway, thank you for taking the time to correct my mistake. You ARE a gentleman and a scholar!

  • Again, look at Hillsdale College who has never took one cent of Government money and has been doing Excellent for over 100 years. Any and all Government support of Education is Democratic Socialism. We were founded as a “Constitutional Republic” with Individual Rights and Liberties. We are operating as a Majority (Mob) Rule Democracy. James Madison, called the Father of the Constitution, said, “A Democracy is as short in it’s life as it is violent in it’s end.”
    Seymour Marvin Mills Jr. sui juris

    • So if 18 year old you gets into a) Berkley b) UCLA c) University of Wisconsin d) Hillsdale are you really going to Hillsdale?

  • Sell the UA system to privatize it.

  • When will heads roll over the mismanagement of the UA system as well as each campus?

    Suzanne-
    I’ll suggest an investigative scoop on how UAA education programs got so sideways with apparently no consequences. Surely you have some sources that could assist.

  • Sounds like the for need a policy and procedural manual to be kept current with regulations for certification,. I wonder how the feel the can charge for an education when they can’t give you a accreditation for completing the course of study to get a degree.

  • I interpret it to say that the University needs to have a smaller percentage of its funding from a state source. If the University can obtain a higher percentage of self funding than it can obtain more independence from political governence.

  • “The Board of Regents has the primary duty to own and manage our university.”- The Honorable Senator John Coghill
    I guess the buck has to stop somewhere?

  • They write “equitably administered” now with their vague threats anyone else think this is a favor pulled and a demand for three chancellors again? Not only could it get someone their job back but it could be a liberal logic to make our Governor “look bad” by his reduction putting “accreditation” at risk. I wouldn’t put it past them -they are all about dirty pool anyway.

  • This feels like the education establishment’s version of the Deep State. The permanent, unseen and unknown bureaucrats trying to control outcomes…

  • In my opinion, UAA needs to divest all of its programs that are of a more technical, vocational area and create a new community college with open enrollment. The remaining programs that lead to a professional degree comprise the new UAA. These should include engineering, pre-med, nursing, education, logistics, business, public administration, science and a few liberal arts degrees. Should include admission standards and minimum course loads, just like most universities. Not sure if the regents are going to ultimately buy off on the one university plan.

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