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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