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Public forum: 5% university tuition increase next fall

UAF CHANCELLOR TAKES LEADERSHIP ROLE IN BUDGET DISCUSSION

Chancellor Dan White of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, has taken a lead role and models transparency in the University of Alaska system, updating his academic community weekly with reports on how his campus is handling its budget challenge.

Systemwide, the University of Alaska is required to make $25 million in cuts this year, and the same amount in the next fiscal year. The University of Alaska Fairbanks campus has lost $12.3 million in state support; the University of Alaska Anchorage has lost $9.1 million; and the University of Alaska Southeast and remote campuses have about $4 million less to work with.

White’s weekly reports are unique — neither chancellors at the Anchorage or Juneau campus come close to what White is executing in addressing the budget cuts in specific, productive, practical, and public ways.

UAF is considering these measures, White said in his last weekly update:

  • Closing one or two of the underground mines used for student training.
  • Replacing one of three greenhouses with a temporary structure or alternative for seasonal high-volume work.
  • Reducing activities at two of the campus-owned farms.
  • Increasing revenues by monetizing parcels for lease or sale.
  • Converting the Kotzebue campus to a learning center.
  • Alternative uses or operating models for the Large Animal Research Station.
  • Assessing the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center.

In the days ahead, the chancellor wrote, campus leaders will return to the strategic planning documents that were put on hold during the discussion of the reorganization of the entire university system. Before that reorganization discussion, which prompted concern by the university’s accrediting organization, the strategic planning task forces had prepared reports and were ready for public comment on various plans.

UNIVERSITY-FAIRBANKS BUDGET FORUM IS TUESDAY, DEC. 3

The next event in the budget discussion is a tuition forum on Dec. 3 to talk about a proposed tuition increase. The forum is being held from 1-2 pm in cooperation with the ASUAF student government and will take place in the Wood Center ballroom.

At issue is the 5 percent increase UA President Jim Johnsen has proposed for the fall of 2020 in order to offset some of the State’s reductions to the UA unrestricted general fund. At their November meeting, the Board of Regents delayed action on that proposal, after comment from student leaders.

“My thanks to ASUAF for catalyzing this discussion, and for all they do in bringing the student voice to decisions at our university. I continue to be amazed at the thoughtfulness of UAF’s student governance leadership. UAF students and we in leadership are lucky to have them,” White wrote.

The Board of Regents delayed action at the November meeting on UA President Jim Johnsen’s proposal for a 5 percent increase to the upper- and lower-division rates of tuition for fall 2020. This increase would partially offset the reductions to UA’s unrestricted general fund.

The forum will be webstreamed and captioned. Those who have limited internet access can listen at 866-832-7806, participant PIN: 2844780. (Please mute your phone, and do not use the hold function during this event.)

Interested parties may submit questions or comments in advance.

The UAS tuition/budget forum is Dec. 2 at 4 pm; and the UAA forum is Dec. 6. Both forums will be web streamed.

FROM FREEZERS TO OUTDATED EQUIPMENT, TIME TO MOVE ON

White identified that among expenses that could be trimmed are freezers. The campus has 617 known freezers that cost the campus more than $300,000 per year in electricity, not including the space they occupy or maintenance on the units. The chancellor said the freezers hold samples that, in some cases, will never be run.

“I know — I kept samples of organic matter in water for more than a decade, just in case,” he wrote, reminiscing on his work as a research professor.

White said the goal of preserving academic and research programs can be met by lowering the university’s operating costs for “space and stuff that we could use better.”

And that includes information technology, such as obsolete video conferencing equipment that “occupies physical and psychological space.”

White takes an encouraging tone in his weekly reports. If he’s worried, he doesn’t show it:

“As we chart our path forward, I encourage you to look forward. What do we need on our journey? What will slow us down, and what, like that old piece of water testing equipment, keeps us looking back?  Every time we look back we are not looking where we are going. If there are spaces we can clear out so that we can reduce capital costs, reduce operations and maintenance, or reduce deferred maintenance, we will be more efficient and more effective. And we need it because we need people. Old outdated equipment, not so much.”

At the Anchorage campus, Chancellor Cathy Sandeen has published a schedule for the strategic planning process, and campus leaders are working through that schedule. Public comment on that plan is due today.

But compared to the UAF chancellor’s approach the UAA campus communications are less specific about how they might find cost savings. The updates are few and far between, difficult to find, and lacking in specifics.

At University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau, Chancellor Rick Caulfied has done little to update the public about how his campus will reduce expenditures. The updates on the school’s web page are generally outdated. More prominent is the “Call to Action” update, where he encourages the public to protest the cuts. If UAS is looking for cost savings, it’s not easy to tell how.

The chancellors in Anchorage and Juneau do video messages and meet in person with their campus community, according to a source in the university administration. They just don’t put out a notice the way White does. President Jim Johnsen sends out a weekly newsletter to the employees throughout the system, including budget news.

All campuses will have to manage yet another $25 million budget cut in the 2021 budget that will be announced by Gov. Mike Dunleavy on or before Dec. 15, when by statute it is due. That fiscal year starts in just 217 days.

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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

  • As a former student body president at the UofA Fbks campus, and later a member of the Board of Regents, I was very pleased to read this article this am.
    We have a chancellor who is doing his job. Too bad we don’t have the same in the statewide administration, an entity that should be totally eliminated given its cost and gross incompetence.
    I support the position of the Faculty Senates who call for the cut of this umbrella over the UofA system.
    And it is time that the UofA focus on its principle responsibility of providing classes and degrees that have relevance to the future of Alaska so graduates can find jobs in Alaska rather than New Jersey.

    • Ric, surely you mean relevant classes like drawing, yoga, Native languages,
      Women’s studies, LBGTQ studies, cultural geography, anti-Trump studies, anthroponegic climate change studies, snowfall studies, sports culture….. etc…etc…
      You meant those incredibly relevant classes.. …. correct?

  • This is welcome news, and overdue. As public data shows – UAF is spending double what its peers spend on a per-student basis. UAS and UAA are much closer to national benchmarks. Smaller campuses are even better. All of UA must address this long-neglected metric in order to secure a future in which the institution and its students enjoy widespread support for a new (lower) appropriate general fund contribution(s) based on the mission rather than solely economic impact.

    Regarding other campus communications about actions underway to achieve similar aims, UAS and UAA have been moving along this path for the last 6 or so years. UAA undertook a program review that led to the termination of 50+? programs, sold unused vehicles and a building and launched an effective Lean Six Sigma working group that produces improved service and lower costs. UAS sold at least one building. Both have attracted private sector investment in high demand programs serving Alaska: Nursing, Pharmacy, Geomatics and more. All while increasing research funding.

    If there is less said about it publicly, it is truly a lost opportunity. Recent instructions to Chancellors from Statewide may be a contributing factor. Remember, the consolidation of community campuses into the three accredited institutions in order to save money actually increased costs for students and the community campuses, and arguably degraded service. I hope real data can inform the Board’s decisions, rather than the “obvious” consolidation temptation.

    • TLP: White

      “effective Lean Six Sigma working group that produces improved service and lower costs“
      But can’t produce teachers for its own future. Why is that? Which costs are lowered??

  • All I have to say is give credit where it is due! Good job Dan White, nothing like getting down to Black & White!

  • Indeed, let’s applaud the actions of Chancellor White at UAF. That said, White’s actions are about working on the margins. 65% of the operating budget is attributable to wages and benefits. Real efficiencies are about reducing staff.

  • DW is willing to spend over $8 million dollars a year to prop up a failed sports entertainment industry. While increasing class sizes and limiting education possibilities for students. Am just not sure if that is a sound fiscal plan or good use of State funds.
    You? Try to find out how much UAF and UAA actually expends on NCAA athletics every year.

  • “As we chart our path forward, I encourage you to look forward. What do we need on our journey? What will slow us down, and what, like that old piece of water testing equipment, keeps us looking back? Every time we look back we are not looking where we are going. If there are spaces we can clear out so that we can reduce capital costs, reduce operations and maintenance, or reduce deferred maintenance, we will be more efficient and more effective. And we need it because we need people. Old outdated equipment, not so much.”

    So his plan is to throw away old equipment, close out some facilities that students might actually be using and get rid of a bunch of freezers because “we need people”…??? What? And does he actually make statements like this?

    He wants to assess the Kodiak center…how about assessing the UAF police department? When I was a student UAF had a security department largely staffed by students backed up by one AST trooper. What’s the cost of that bureaucratic empire building?

    He wants to close an underground mine that is used to teach students? How about closing down a few of the many satellite campuses. The UA website states that there are three main campuses and 13 associated community campuses and learning centers. If a few extra freezers are killing our budget just think what all of those extra campuses must be doing.

    Let’s take a good look at the university administrative costs too. Back in the 1980s the university renovated Signer’s Hall into a plush administrative center, sparing no expense, while threatening to cut faculty and degree programs. We can bet that the focus on maintaining high wages, great benefits, lucrative retirement packages and nice working space for administrative overhead at the expense of degree programs hasn’t changed.

    The primary goal of any bureaucracy is to grow (they teach courses that cover this topic) and that is what the UA system has been doing for a long, long time. When the budget crunch comes it always seems to be the academic programs and faculty who get the target put on their backs.

    So here’s an idea, Mr. White: close the satellite facilities and focus on the UAF main campus (because the system can’t afford to be so spread out), emphasize degree programs (that means cutting the completely unnecessary sports programs, as one example), eliminate administrative departments and functions that don’t contribute to teaching (hint: police department) and that can be better accomplished through other entities and eliminate unnecessary administrative overhead (you know it’s there). There’s plenty to cut in the UA system that won’t negatively impact student learning…probably just the opposite.

    Stop your dissembling with talk of too many freezers and promises to “assess” things and get serious about cutting the UA budget. It’s pretty obvious from the bureaucratic double-speak and weak cost cutting ideas that you’re not serious about getting the budget problem under control. Most likely you and the rest of the UA upper echelon are just stalling until you can help get a more pliable governor elected.

    • Well said!
      .
      Forgive me in advance for if I (accidentally, of course) plagiarize.

    • Great post, spot on in my opinion.

  • We cannot allow a mine shaft gap.

  • How much money will a 5% tuition generate to offset a $25 million reduction?

    • Answer: Not enough, even if it did offset $25M…

  • Maybe it’s time to accept that Alaska won’t have anything resembling a world-class university simply because our very own Deep State doesn’t want thriving, outspoken academics with world-class reputations nipping at its heels.
    .
    Gentle Readers, who among us believes money is really the issue?
    .
    Give, say, twice as much money to three overpriced, underperforming bureaucracies accountable to no one for what they spend or produce, then Alaska gets a top-ranked university? No? Well how much does it take? Surely somebody has a number all figured out… let’s have it!
    .
    Meanwhile, from “Crawford: A billion here, a billion there – Alaska Mental Health Trust and the University of Alaska endowment”, we get:
    “University of Alaska Foundation :
    Cash and Investments: $245,610,000
    Profit in FY 2018: $28,708,000
    Value of land contributed by the state of Alaska: $151,000,000
    The UA land, over 151,000 acres, is booked in their financials at $201 per acre, but valued by professionals at a minimum $1,000 per acre. Should the University of Alaska Foundation swap its remote residential properties for oil bearing lands in ANWR or Kenai and dividend half its increased earnings to higher education?
    (http://www.anchoragedailyplanet.com/159021/crawford-a-billion-here-a-billion-there-alaska-mental-health-trust-and-the-university-of-alaska-endowment/)
    .
    Then there’s the matter of lost accreditation… customers defrauded by any other definition, did they get refunds? What other university accreditations might be foundering unbeknownst to customers? Who’s encouraged to spend their parents’ fortune on an “education” which qualifies students for little, if anything, in the job market?
    .
    Expect nothing to change until productive Alaskans decide they don’t want their taxes or tuition wasted on this kind of stuff, or on university employees whose incompetence allows it, whose lack of incentive to improve anything except their ability to Get Money seems to be the only preeminent attribute of Alaska’s university industry.
    .
    No, this bucket of worms smells much worse than somebody’s pitiful public-relations performance, money myth, or freezer folly.
    .
    And it’ll take a big, uncomfortable dose of incentive and outside intervention to fix.

  • In my opinion, administration at all 3 campuses and at Statewide are not being honest. Ask for the specific details on round 1 of the cuts at both UAA and UAF – you will find that almost all cuts have been on academic programs. That is, at UAA every single College -except health at 5%- has been cut by as much or more than the overall cuts to the campus (UAAs cut this year was 10%). Same story as I understand at UAF. Meanwhile administrators at every level are talking about how they are absorbing the cuts creatively and costlessly. Students and faculty know the real story and everyone with options is leaving. It’s a real fine mess. And in the midst of the chaos administration decides to continue to build the administrative class. For instance, last I heard, UAA is moving forward to hire the first ever “chief diversity officer” even though UA has an HR office perfectly capable of handling diversity. Presumably this new person will also need support staff and – things to do – which will only create more costs while entrenching the administrative class further. There needs to be a outside hired gun as President whose job it is to dismantle unnecessary administration and to eliminate sweetheart subsidies too many institutes and programs have gotten for too long. On this path anything good in the University will collapse as good people, programs and students are being driven out by short-cited administrative decisions.

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