Collin Kanenwisher, currently with the U.S. Coast Guard and taking anthropology classes, talks about the value of the University of Alaska Southeast on campus on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Collin Kanenwisher, currently with the U.S. Coast Guard and taking anthropology classes, talks about the value of the University of Alaska Southeast on campus on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

UAS students, faculty brace nervously for cuts

Concerns abound about the long-term effects of funding cuts

As the decisions made to cut more than 40 percent of the state’s education budget come home to roost, and the University of Alaska Board of Regents’ recent decision to declare financial exigency, many here at UAS — both students and faculty — are worried about what might happen to their programs and their jobs.

“It’s got me a lot of my fellow students nervous,” said Scott Maxwell, a graduate student at UAS Juneau.

Maxwell, studying for a graduate degree in teaching, said he was assured that his class would complete the program. “We’re offering the full array of classes in the fall,” said UAS Chancellor Rick Caulfield.

Maxwell was worried about future graduating classes, however.

“It’s going to be absolutely devastating,” Maxwell said.

UAS alumni Michael Luedke, who now works for the school, was on campus Wednesday.

“Around campus, everyone is uncertain how it will all end up,” he said.

Financial exigency shortens the requirement times for notifying school faculty and staff that their contract with the school is being terminated. It also means that many programs, including those people are most interested in, could be on the chopping block.

“It’s not a plan, it’s just a tool,” said Roberta Graham, assistant vice president with University of Alaska Anchorage, talking about financial exigency. “Essentially it allows for flexibility to deal not just with faculty, but with staff and contracts of all kinds,” Graham said.

Former University of Alaska Southeast students and current seasonal grounds crew Maddie Hermans, left, and Michael Luedke talk about their positive experiences at the school on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Former University of Alaska Southeast students and current seasonal grounds crew Maddie Hermans, left, and Michael Luedke talk about their positive experiences at the school on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Many of the options for exigency offered to the Board of Regents involve drawing down on programs across Alaska, or even axing a whole campus — or more. The exigency allows the administration to make these choices quickly and stop the bleeding before it gets beyond a point where the college can be saved.

“To take away the programs we do have, a lot of people will miss out on their targeted major,” said Collin Kanenwisher, a petty officer with the Coast Guard taking classes at UAS. “Any specialization that would keep people around might go away.”

Financial exigency allows the schools to make quicker decisions to jettison staff or programs that would normally take much longer to unload, allowing the entire university system to be more agile on its feet than regular.

“A tenured professor would require 12 months of notice before a change of employment status,” Caulfield said in an interview Tuesday. “Now, it’s 60 days.”

This is not without its own cost, though.

“It’s going to drive students out of the state to go to university,” said Maxwell. “Many of them won’t come back.”

According to the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education, 53 percent of students graduating from Alaska high schools stay in Alaska for their entire college education. A further 18 percent attended some college in Alaska, and some in other states.

The percentage of those Alaska high school graduates who remained in Alaska after graduating is also dropping, according to the ACPE. In 2007, this rate was 79 percent. By 2013, it was only 64 percent, led mostly by those who attended college out of state. There is a correlation between going to college out of state and not coming back to Alaska.

“The main reason I came to UAS was it was in state,” Luedke said.

UAS, which is known for its marine biology and fishery programs, as well as its school for environmental science, also has schools for Alaska Native language which could be threatened under exigency. Many students come to UAS for these and similar programs.

“We think about historical strengths and regional assets and protecting what we can,” Caulfield said.

“We’re hopeful that there may still be relief from the legislative process,” said Caulfield, talking about overturning the governor’s budget cuts. But from the tone of many, both faculty, staff, and students, that hope is fading.

“It’ll be devastating to the quality of life in Alaska,” said Maxwell, talking about a brain drain when people who have received advanced education leave Alaska to live other places that offer a better quality of life for their work.

“Cutting UAS would be devastating to Juneau,” Luedke said. “Without UAS here, we’d have no reason to live here,” he said, gesturing to himself and other university employees.


• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 523-2271 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.


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