‘Running a tight ship’: University hopes to again prove worthy of a bump from state

Final budget request will go to governor in November

The University of Alaska Board of Regents is meeting in Juneau this week, delving into the university system’s budget and other assorted topics.

Jim Johnsen, the president of the university system, spoke at Thursday’s Chamber of Commerce luncheon, giving a wide-ranging update on the system’s projects and goals. One major aim of this week’s Board of Regents meetings is to give the board the first reading of the university’s budget request for 2020.

“Here in September each year, we share with them our big picture ideas and plans,” Johnsen said in an interview after the luncheon.

After getting feedback from the regents this week, the task gets more detail-oriented. Johnsen and his staff will go to each campus and meet with faculty and staff to further refine the budget request.

The Board of Regents will meet again in November to hash out the final details of their request, which will then go to the governor’s office and the Alaska Legislature.

Earlier this year, the Legislature gave the University of Alaska its first budget increase in four years, bumping its operating budget from $317 million to $327 million. It wasn’t as much of an increase as the Board of Regents had requested, but Johnsen said it was a sign that legislators are understanding how vital the university is for the state.

“I think it was a vote of confidence,” Johnsen said. “It was hard for us to get on the right track. We took a lot of serious cuts, and my sense is they’re persuaded that we’re running a tight ship. We’ve got our eyes focused on the right priorities and that’s what we’re working toward.”

The Board of Regents met starting at 2 p.m. Thursday, and held a public gathering at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. The Board of Regents will meet all day Friday (from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.) at the University of Alaska Southeast Student Recreation Center. That portion is open to the public, Johnsen said, and the board will go into a private, executive session starting at 4 p.m.

In addition to the budget, Johnsen will present to the Board of Regents about how salaries for faculty, staff and executives in the university system stack up against other universities nationwide. Johnsen said there’s been a freeze on salaries and benefits for the past two years, and he’s hoping that can change soon.

Though every year’s budget cycle is crucial for the university, Johnsen said, it’s also important to think long-term. They’ll discuss a 10-year plan at the Board of Regents meetings this week, he said, and he also wants to start thinking beyond that. He talked about an infant he met at Southeast Conference in Ketchikan this week, and was thinking about how in 2040, that child will be grown up into a college student. It’s important to think big-picture, Johnsen said, because the future is quickly approaching.

For both short- and long-term planning, he said, it’s paramount for the university system to remain as efficient as possible.

“We need to be as rigorous and as lean as we can possibly be as an organization,” Johnsen said.

The Board of Regents meetings will be streamed live on www.alaska.edu/bor/live.

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or amccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.

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