UA President speaks on restructuring, dramatic budget proposal

Feb 23, 2016

In a press conference Tuesday, Jim Johnsen addressed the Strategic Pathways plan's lack of specifics, and called Rep. Tammie Wilson's budget-slashing proposal "a serious hit in our capacity to serve the state."

Credit University of Alaska

University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen is touting a restructuring plan called “Strategic Pathways” as a way to save the state money. 

The plan, presented to the Board of Regents last week, would reorganize the system into three “lead” universities, but it lacks specifics about how much money it would save, or which programs might be on the chopping block.

Johnsen told reporters Tuesday that it’s in the University’s interest to withhold those details for now.

"When we start naming particular programs, then people know exactly who's in those programs, and they start doing things like leaving, they start doing things like not enrolling next term, etc," said Johnsen. "So we end up with some very negative impacts in this uncertain situation." 

Johnsen also fielded questions about a proposal by Rep. Tammie Wilson (R-North Pole) that would cut the University budget from the $331 million in the Governor’s budget down to $288 million.

Wilson told the House Finance Subcommittee last week her budget plan only contains money for what the University considers “student instruction.” It would eliminate funds for research and for outreach programs like the Marine Advisory Program.

"I did hear from Rep. Wilson today that the general fund support for intercollegiate athletics – which is about $8 million per year - is included within the $288 million, so that’s a clarification I learned from her this morning." said Johnsen Tuesday. "But outside of it is research and outreach." 

Johnsen is headed to Juneau this week to meet with lawmakers and defend his Strategic Pathways plan, which is meant to take shape over a three-year period.

He said a dramatic budget cut like Wilson’s would force the process to go much more quickly, and would make for a much leaner institution.

"There will much less choice in terms of academic majors for students, there will likely be less research that happens, meaning, of course by consequence, much less outside revenue will be coming into the University," said Johnsen. "It’ll be a lot more houses on the market for sale, it’ll be a lot fewer people shopping at Fred Meyer and buying your newspapers. It will be serious hit in our capacity to serve the state."

Johnsen said he has provided Wilson with “extensive information” about the types of research conducted at the University.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports Wilson has put the University budget on hold while she seeks a more detailed breakdown on how research is paid for and who it benefits.

The subcommittee had planned to finish its work on the university’s budget today (Tuesday). The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday at 7 p.m.