State of University speech warns of cuts

FAIRBANKS — The new president of the University of Alaska is warning students and staff of potential cuts to degree offerings and university jobs as the statewide university system faces financial uncertainty.

President Jim Johnsen said during his first State of the University speech on Tuesday that it remains unclear exactly how the state’s $3.5 billion budget shortfall will affect the university. Johnsen said the state budget will likely be finalized in April, putting off a decision on whether to reduce or possibly invest in more university programs until June, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

In the meantime, university officials are working on contingency plans in anticipation of decreased funding from the state Legislature. Johnsen and the Board of Regents are awaiting those plans from each campus as well as a list of programs up for “expedited review.”

“All in, we’re in excess of (a) $900 million operation, 16 locations with 7,000 faculty and staff and 478 degree programs. And we think of that as 478 products that you sell,” Johnsen said. “It’s very complex.”

The university reached that level while the state was seeing a good flow of revenue because of high oil prices, Johnsen said.

“Times are tough now, but they’re likely to get even tougher in the coming years,” he said. The university will continue to deal with any challenges and “not just hunker down under a desk and wait for oil prices to rebound.”

Despite the impact of cuts already made, the university continues to produce well-educated graduates while keeping tuition low relative to other comparable institutions, Johnsen said. The university has contributed to a growing number of nursing graduates to fill the state’s needs and it remains a leader in Arctic research, he said.

“It takes a great university to make a great state,” Johnsen said. “We know, we live and breathe that mission every single day. We are the University of Alaska and we are the university for Alaska.”

Johnsen said the decisions made later on this year for the university will be based on the needs of the state.

“Our criteria will include quality, cost, demand, productivity, benefits and a variety of other considerations,” he said. “There will be some friction, tension and outright opposition to some of the recommendations that come forward this spring for the regents’ decision in June.”

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