Dr. Richard Caulfield, Chancellor at the University of Alaska Southeast, gives an update during a speech at the university on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019. Caulfield is retiring at the end of June but said he’ll remain in Juneau as an advocate for UAS. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Dr. Richard Caulfield, Chancellor at the University of Alaska Southeast, gives an update during a speech at the university on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019. Caulfield is retiring at the end of June but said he’ll remain in Juneau as an advocate for UAS. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Outgoing UAS chancellor: Merger talk ‘something you should pay attention to’

Caulfield said workforce development programs could be in jeopardy

The proposal to merge the University of Alaska Southeast with UA Fairbanks is troubling and should be a concern to businesses in Southeast Alaska, said UAS Chancellor Rick Caulfield Thursday in an address to the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce.

Speaking through video, Caulfield told the Chamber merging UAS with UAF would be likely to limit educational opportunities offered in Southeast and undermine long-standing workforce development relationships the university has with local businesses.

“It’s important to remember UAS has 299 totals employees at our three campuses. We have a payroll here in Southeast Alaska of $31 million, for Juneau that payroll is $24 million, the remainder in Sitka and Ketchikan,” Caulfield said. “In recent years, we’ve paid about $7 million annually to businesses and vendors at our campuses across Southeast. UAS is a significant part of our regional and local economies where our campuses are located.”

UAS has workforce development partnerships with Hecla Greens Creek Mine, Sealaska Heritage Institute and Bartlett Regional Hospital, Caulfield said, and he questions whether those programs could be sustained if university leadership was located in Fairbanks.

The UA system is suffering from a series of shocks recently as state budget cuts and the outbreak of COVID-19 have drastically reduced the university’s revenue. Then, last week, UA President Jim Johnsen announced his resignation.

Johnsen had been the only candidate for consideration for president of the University of Wisconsin but withdrew his name from consideration following criticism from faculty unions. University Vice President Michelle Rizk will serve as acting president until an interim president is named no later than July 15, according to the Associated Press.

[University of Alaska board votes for study on University of Alaska Southeast merger]

UAS has demonstrated the quality of its programs through ongoing accreditation, Caulfield said. UAS’ College of Education absorbed students from UA Anchorage when that university’s program lost its accreditation.

There were other ways to make cuts that didn’t sacrifice so many programs at UAS, Caulfield said, pointing to athletic programs which remain at UAA and UAF.

“I have nothing against athletics,” he said. “I’m just not sure the subsidies that provide for those programs are worth trading for workforce training programs.”

UAS receives 7.6% of state appropriations to the UA system, Caulfield said, and under the reductions proposed by Johnsen and the merger would mean substantial cuts to UAS. That would drastically change what UA is able to offer Southeast, according to Caulfield, and also mean significant reductions to local staff positions.

“Southeast students would have to shift largely to online courses emanating from Fairbanks,” he said. “I’m concerned about the impact that would have on the partnerships that we have for workforce development, whether that could be sustained if leadership is 700 miles away, you should be too.”

But UAS has received considerable support from the community, both financially and spiritually. Caulfield thanked the Chamber and many of its member organizations for their ongoing financial donations and said he was heartened to hear so many people give public testimony in support of leaving UAS as an independent entity.

“Despite all of that heartening support, the (UA Board of Regents) went ahead and called for a formal study, and asked that a report be prepared and presented before the Board of Regents meeting in November,” Caulfield said.

[University of Alaska president resigns]

He was disappointed the merger option was the only one to get close consideration, he said, even though there were other options available. When Johnsen announced the merger plan June 1, he said these options had been chosen with limited time and other options were available but at a June 4, Regents meeting an in-depth study of the merger was ordered.

Caulfield, too, is leaving the UA system, but he’s going to remain in Juneau, he said during his talk. He intends to continue his advocacy for UAS into his retirement, he said, and in some ways, being a private citizen will allow him to become more of an advocate.

The University announced Wednesday UAS Provost Karen Carey would serve as interim chancellor of the school until a decision is made about the school.

“Dr. Carey’s extensive experience with UAS, her distinguished career as an academic leader and her love for the university makes me confident that she will be a strong leader and will do an outstanding job as Interim Chancellor,” Rizk said in a letter.

Despite all the uncertainty, UAS will be open for the fall, Caulfield said, and the school is currently planning to hold in-person classes and offer limited student housing with additional health precautions.

Incoming interim chancellor Dr. Karen Carey, currently provost at the University of Alaska Southeast. (Courtesy photo | University of Alaska Southeast)

Incoming interim chancellor Dr. Karen Carey, currently provost at the University of Alaska Southeast. (Courtesy photo | University of Alaska Southeast)

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnoEmpire.

More in News

Juneau residents place hundreds of pairs of children's shoes in front of the state at Mayor Bill Overstreet Park on June 12, 2021 as they mourned for the 215 dead children uncovered at a residential school in Canada. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)
Community members hold vigil for residential school victims

The appalling legacy of the schools stretches far and deep.

A nesting pair of greater yellowlegs, in a Petersburg muskeg on June 6. (Courtesy Photo/ Becky Knight)
Wild Shots: Photos of Mother Nature in Alaska

Reader-submitted photos of Southeast Alaska.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Sunday, June 13, 2021

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
‘A lot of work to do’: Officials hope for summer bounce in vaccinations

Zink said just six months ago she didn’t think the state would have as much vaccine stock as it does now.

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, NIAID-RML
COVID at a glance for Friday, June 11

The most recent state and local figures.

A man was found guilty of multiple charges of sexual abuse of a minor by a Juneau jury on June 10, 2021. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire)
Man found guilty of sexual abuse of a minor

It was the first felony trial since the easing of the court’s pandemic measures.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Friday, June 11, 2021

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Coast Guard Station Ketchikan crew members, Petty Officer 3rd Class Corben Hill (left) and Petty Officer 3rd Class Caleb Hoskins work a tow line for a yacht near Ketchikan, after another Ketchikan crew medevaced the yacht’s captain June 9, 2021. The earlier boat crew worked with paramedics from South Tongass Volunteer Fire Department to transport the 86-year-old yacht captain to EMS on shore, after he experienced stroke symptoms. (Fireman George Haver / USCG)
Coast Guard medevacs man from yacht near Ketchikan

The man was experiencing stroke-like symptoms.

Most Read