UAA faculty file grievance against UA Board of Regents vote

A handful of University of Alaska Anchorage faculty members have filed a grievance over a 10-1 University of Alaska Board of Regents vote in favor of financial exigency — a way to speed up the process of cutting programs and staff in light of Gov. Mike Dunleavy's budget vetoes to the UA system.

"It wasn't done properly," said UAA Political Science Chair Forrest Nabors who has signed the grievance.

Nabors and others believe the regents should have first submitted a plan for the cost-cutting of specific parts of the university system. He says faculty should have then been part of the process to help figure out potential program changes and staff layoffs.

"Nobody has demonstrated why need system-wide financial exigency, which puts all of our faculty at risk," he said.

Nabors says the move will keep professors away from Alaska and the university system.

"Because they are going see that 100% of the faculty was basically converted into at-will employees after spending years working for their doctorates, after spending years of working to achieve tenure. And then like that, they were just converted into at-will employees which threatens to destroy academic careers," Nabors said.

Music and Alaska Native Studies Professor Maria Williams, who is also the UA Faculty Alliance Chair, worries about losing the staff they have now.

"As a matter of fact I think faculty we're getting very uneasy and I do know that the College of Business has had several resignations of faculty. The College of Health I heard had one resignation. So these are faculty that are basically, are very alarmed at the current political situation," she said.

Williams, Nabors and others want regents to rescind their decision, involve faculty, slow down and "do this the right way."

Roberta Graham, the Associate Vice President of Public Affairs, provided a statement on behalf of UA regarding the grievance filed:

"The Board of Regents has a policy that provides for the internal administrative review of disputes and specifically provides for a grievance process concerning a declaration of financial exigency. We are following that process, which includes a hearing before an impartial hearing officer. The process is in progress and further comment wouldn't be appropriate until it is completed.”

Regent Chair John Davies says there will be an independent review of the vote to see if the process was followed correctly. He says if it was, the vote will stand. If the process was not correct, it's possible regents would vote again. 

Alaska professors worry about the uncertainty of financial exigency

UAA professor Kat Milligan-Myhre, Ph.D has a lot on her mind and many emotions about the unknown future. The uncertainty of financial exigency has thousands of University of Alaska employees like Milligan-Myhre wondering if they will have jobs and be able to provide for their families.

"Frustration, fatigue; we've been dealing with these budget issues ever since I got here four years ago which means it just seems like every time we make a small movement forward we take a huge step back," Milligan-Myhre said.

She says she doesn't know what the status of her research lab will be in a year and all of this has been a huge distraction for her job.

Milligan-Myhre focuses on microbiology and researches diseases impacting Alaska Natives.

"One of the directions I wanted to take my lab in is to study traditional medicines and determine if they have anti-microbial effects to see if we could use these to cure tuberculosis or other diseases that are so important to Alaskans," said Milligan-Myhre.

She says losing state money could put her research and many others at jeopardy.

"If we don't have state funding to match these projects then we don't have federal funds coming in, and almost all of my projects are funded through federal monies," said Milligan-Myhre.

As an Alaska Native from Kotzebue, this research goes beyond her personal connection. 

"The amount of research is done at the University of Alaska and how that affects all over Alaska, not just here in Anchorage, but all over," Milligan-Myhre said. "The topics that we study range from bats in Alaska — which who even knew there were bats here — to how seal respond to change in diet which is affected to everything we do to our environment."

In addition to losing research opportunities, she is also prepared to lose her job.

"I am currently getting my papers published so that if I get a pink slip at the end of October I can tell potential employers why I'm the best fit for their university," Milligan-Myhre said. "I don't want to leave here because I don't want to lose that tie to my land, and I don't want to lose those ties to my family that I have built up over the last four years. I don't want to lose the potential for teaching Alaska Natives or other Alaskans. I don't want to leave here. This is my home and this is where I belong."

There are more than 2,000 professors in the University of Alaska system. The UA Board of Regents voted on July 30 to consolidate the system into one university. The regents asked UA President Jim Johnsen to present a plan on Sept. 12 at the next board meeting.

Copyright 2019 KTVA. All rights reserved.