16 CAMPUSES, 424 DEGREES AND CERTIFICATES
When University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen told Senate Finance Committee last week “I’m not going to negotiate,” there was an audible murmur among fiscal conservatives across the state.
Johnsen’s approach seemed incredible, considering he is facing a university system with rapidly declining enrollment, a cornerstone teaching degree program that lost its accreditation, and now a proposed budget cut of $134 million system wide from the Dunleavy Administration. That’s 40 percent cut of the total funds the university received from the State last year, but just a 17 percent cut to the university system’s overall budget.
No university president wants to preside over the decline of an institution. Johnsen has found himself in charge during a fiscal crisis that may demand he restructure higher education in Alaska, and he has little time to do so.
ASTRONOMY 101: UNIVERSITY SALARIES IN STRATOSPHERE
A quick survey of university salaries conducted by the Alaska Policy Forum shows that, as of 2017, UA had several highly paid professionals throughout the system, starting with President Johnsen, who is compensated $462,253.50 (in 2017, he earned $358,892.47 gross; $103,361.03 benefits). There were others:
- Chancellors Dana Lester Thomas and Thomas Case (retired, replaced by Cathy Sandeen) were compensated $360,343.97 ($279,770.16 gross and $80,573.81 benefits) and $359,020.19 ($278,742.38 gross and $80,277.81 benefits) respectively. Case had campus housing and a vehicle allowance.
- Dean Vickie Williams was the highest compensated dean in the system, with $347,652.08 ($316,911 gross; $30,740.43 benefits).
- The highest compensated professor in 2017 was Gordon Kruse, Professor at the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences for a total of $304,185.54 ($233,092.37 gross earnings; $71,093.17 benefits).
- The highest compensated associate professor in 2017 was Kevin Berry at the School of Management for a total of $247,475.88 ($192,139.66 gross earnings; $55,336.22 benefits).
- Six people compensated in excess of $300,000 (gross and benefits). Eighty university employees, including some professors, were compensated in excess of $200,000 (gross and benefits).
- UAF Chancellor and Vice President Daniel White received $310,037.88 ($240,712.64 gross; $69,325.24 benefits).
- Three employees with job class title “Safety Svcs – Fire 2” were compensated more than $220,000: Patrick Mead, Ronnie Templeton Jr., and Gregory Lee Coon, $228,105.62, $227,250.04, and $224,454.53 respectively.
- Michael Castellini at the UAF Provost Office Operations, job class title of “administrative management” earned $255,842.68. Thirty-four people with the job class title “administrative management” were compensated in excess of $150,000.00.
- Institute of Social and Economic Research Director Ralph Townsend, was compensated $199,979.93, which is more than Office of Management and Budget Director Donna Arduin.
- Mouhcine Guettabi at the College of Business & Public Policy and ISER was compensated $171,741.95.
- UAA Athletic Director Jim Hackett in 2017 was making $157,879 in base salary, with benefits on top of that (he has since moved on).
- Jeff Jessee, dean of the College of Health, in 2017 had a base salary of $198,000.
- Denise Runge, dean of the Community and Technical College receives a base of $155,000.04.
- Fred Barlow, the dean of the College of Engineering, had a base of $195,000 in 2017. He resigned, and Kenrick Mock is interim dean.
This is not to say employees are not worth their salaries. It simply puts the system in an awkward position to say the budget should be preserved, considering falling enrollment, low graduation rates, and a program losing its national accreditation.
PRESIDENT JOHNSEN WAS PRESCIENT FOUR YEARS AO
In 2015, Johnsen acknowledged the problem. He wrote that with the state paying 45 percent of the cost of running the university system, “that revenue source is in trouble, given low oil prices and gradually declining productivity. That’s a challenge for us, so we’ve really got to try to diversify our revenue sources as much as we possibly can.”
“Challenge” is an understatement. The system was already in a crisis that was spiraling faster than revenue diversification could keep up.
- Over five years, student count has dropped 12.2 percent and credit hours taken have diminished 12.6 percent, according to the university.
- By 2018, enrollment fell to 23,778 from over 29,442 five years earlier. Must Read Alaska calculates this as a 19 percent drop in enrollment.
- Over five years, salaries and benefits also dropped 9.4 percent; university system shed 1,283 jobs, or 15 percent of workforce, not an easy process.
- Over five years, travel expenditures increased 1 percent, including a nearly 11 percent increase from FY18 to FY19.
- The University of Alaska Anchorage has a six-year graduation rate of 29.1 percent, Fairbanks has 33 percent graduating after six years. (Some students drop, others transfer, and others continue to work toward completion.)
In his 2018 budget summary, Johnsen had advised that the “FY16 the University’s $350 million state general fund appropriation was twice the national average on a per student full-time equivalent (FTE) basis. The goal is to bring that down to $312 million, or 1.3 times the national average, by FY25.”
Over the past 40 years, with the help of money coming from Alaska North Slope oil, the university had grown from three campuses to 16, including rural and community campuses. It offers 424 degrees and certificates.
But times are different. Oil is holding steady in terms of production, but the price per barrel is not high enough to support the $6 billion overall State budget proposed by former Gov. Bill Walker. It will be sheer luck if revenues can support the $4.6 billion budget proposed by Gov. Michael Dunleavy.
The proposed budget cuts are profound and ask for a complete overhaul of the way the university conducts business. So far the university administrators seem to be in a state of denial.
A memo from Anchorage campus Chancellor Cathy Sandeen last week told the campus community that the executive team had an emergency meeting, and is not implementing either a hiring freeze or a travel freeze — yet. They’re taking a wait-and-see approach.
“But I ask all leaders to use an added level of judgement in filling positions, approving travel, and making other decisions with long term commitment,” she wrote.
She also said the leadership team wasn’t planning to recommend to the Board of Regents that the campuses come under a single accreditation.
However, she said, “In terms of what is on or off the table for consideration, everything is on the table.” That includes looking at the organization of the community campuses as a community college unit. She said that reductions will be made on each university’s unique strengths and mission.
BOARD OF REGENTS TO DISCUSS
The options on the table will be discussed at the Board of Regents meeting on Feb. 28. Details:
Board of Regents’ Meeting
February 28 – March 1, 2019
Lee Gorsuch Commons, Room 107
University of Alaska Anchorage
Watch on Live Stream: (except during executive session): http://www.alaska.edu/bor/live/
Public Testimony: Thursday, Feb. 28 from 8:15-9:15 am
Sign-up sheets: Available Thursday, Feb. 28 at 8 am in the Lee Gorsuch Commons, room 107.
Comments: Limited to two minutes per individual. Written comments are accepted and will be distributed to the Board of Regents and President Johnsen. Comments may be sent to [email protected].
Agenda material: BoardDocs
Questions: Brandi Berg, Executive Officer, Board of Regents, [email protected].