UA president proposes major restructuring of system

FAIRBANKS — The president of the University of Alaska is calling for a broad restructuring of the institution to deal with financial woes that he says could amount to a 22 percent reduction in funding.

Jim Johnsen in an email to campuses announced Thursday he would push to combine the three main UA campuses into a single university, ending independent administration and accreditation at UA Fairbanks, UA Anchorage and UA Southeast, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

Restructuring would mean fewer top-level administrators, lower operating costs and greater responsiveness to student interests, Johnsen wrote.

The Alaska Legislature, meeting in Juneau, continues to struggle with revenue and spending issues in light of low petroleum prices. The university system received $350 million last year and lawmakers are considering a reduction of $50 million.

Fixed increased costs, unfunded mandates and contractual obligations will cost the university $25 million more, Johnsen said, resulting in an effective 22 percent cut in funding from the current year.

“We hope the Legislature restores some funding as it completes its work in Juneau, but the uncertainty surrounding the budget forces us to plan for the worst while we advocate for what we need,” he wrote.

Johnsen had proposed a more methodical review of the UA system but the proposed budget cuts changed that. He will present his recommendations to the Board of Regents in June.

He acknowledged that the Legislature could increase or lower the funding number. The system’s greatest enemy is uncertainty, he said.

“Uncertainty about what academic programs will be cut, maintained, or grown. Uncertainty about our administrative structure,” he wrote. “By announcing these actions now, I hope to provide you some degree of certainty in an otherwise uncertain world.”

Johnsen has proposed an accelerated review of programs for teacher education, management and business, and engineering as part of a plan to reduce redundancies at campuses.

Johnsen also has proposed a review of research administration and intercollegiate athletics.

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