More dark days loom for faculty and students within the University of Alaska system as another round of cuts draws closer. 

UA President Jim Johnsen said the ongoing budget cuts and potential consolidation of the university system — along with roles played by regents, chancellors and himself — add to the murkiness.

"Well I think it's cloudy looking from the outside in. It's probably also some would say from the inside, cloudy," Johnsen said. "I think a lot of that is because of the disruption we've just experienced where it was an existential threat."

At the next board of regents meeting, a two-day event on Nov. 7 and 8 in Fairbanks, the board will review the university’s fiscal year 2021 operating budget. According to a Nov. 1 release, the operating budget is expected to be a $277 million state appropriation, which will reflect another $25 million reduction. 

"I think there is a great deal of uncertainty and fear," Johnsen said. "Because, ultimately we still have to cut $70 million on top of the $51 million we've already cut. We had 1,200 fewer employees based on the $51 million cut."

Johnsen says the $70 million cut is going to hurt a lot of people.

"Jobs will be lost, programs will be reduced over the next two years — without question," Johnsen said. "So, I think there's a legitimate concern and fear about job security for university employees, about programs being available for students and so they are naturally reacting."

Over the summer, the board of regents and Gov. Mike Dunleavy agreed to reduced budget cuts that would take place over a three-year span and not all at once. Johnsen said university officials are preparing a response to the Legislature and the governor for delivery by the end of November. The response will include discussion of steps the university has taken and plans to take to hold up its end of the August agreement.

Once the operating budget is agreed upon, regents will submit it to the Office of Management and Budget.

"Although regents are expected to move the budget on to the governor, details of the spending plan will not be finalized until early next year," the Friday release from regents states.

Late Friday afternoon, UA leaders also heard a response back from their accreditor, which had previously raised concerns about the clarity of leadership structure and lack of inclusive dialogue surrounding the university's future.

“It is clear that the Board of Regents, system office, and institutions are moving forward collectively to clarify the roles and responsibilities throughout the system,” Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities President Sonny Ramaswamy wrote in the Nov. 1 letter. “You are also creating opportunities for inclusive dialogue regarding the future structure of the University of Alaska System as you develop a path forward to solve the funding and enrollment challenges that threaten the state’s institutions of higher learning.”

Board Chair John Davies expressed a sense of relief.

“It’s good to know we are headed in the right direction,” Davies said in the release. “We appreciate the commission’s prompt response and look forward to our Board of Regents meeting next week and the work ahead with our chancellors and governance leaders.”

At the November meeting, regents will also weigh proposed tuition hikes starting in fall 2020.

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