ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The University of Alaska Board of Regents on Monday postponed a decision that would have allowed administrators to bypass usual procedures for cutting programs and personnel.
Regents face a 41% cut in state funding for the university but delayed declaring a “financial exigency” that would allowed rapid downsizing through expedited layoffs of tenured staff.
“I think the board wanted to give the political process a little more time, and that makes sense,” university President Jim Johnsen said in a phone interview afterward.
The board will hold an informational meeting next week and will gather again July 30 for a formal consideration of the declaration.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy last month used line-item vetoes to eliminate $130 million in state funding from the university budget. University administrators say the impact will be greater because fewer students will enroll and pay tuition and researchers will lose grants and contract work with federal agencies.
Lawmakers failed to reach the three-quarter majority threshold last week to override the vetoes. About one-third of the legislature, including most members of the House minority and a handful of senators, stayed away from the Capitol in a dispute about where a special legislative session called by Dunleavy should have been held.
Republican Sen. Click Bishop, near tears and with his voice cracking, apologized to regents, who face major institutional decisions and minimal time to make them.
“I want to say I’m sorry,” Bishop said. “This should never have happened.”
The House Finance Committee met Monday morning in Anchorage to consider the size of dividends to be paid out from the Alaska Permanent Fund and adopted a bill that would restore money that Dunleavy vetoed. That measure also could be vetoed, but Bishop pledged to find additional support among his colleagues.
“I’m not done, and we’re going to turn this around,” he said.
Johnsen said he has been in contact with Dunleavy and that the governor is operating from a position of power after seeing the override vote fail. Johnsen said he’s focusing on the budget in hand rather than how it might be enhanced in the next few weeks.
At the current level of spending, the university would have to cut $11 million per month through next June to balance its budget. Delaying reductions until October would mean having to cut $15 million monthly.
“Every day we delay only compounds the cuts we need to take later in the year,” Johnsen said.
But regents were hesitant to take immediate action while legislators negotiate with Dunleavy.
Regent Andy Teuber called for waiting until July 30 or the vote on a declaration of exigency, given the monumental scope of the decision and the ongoing discussions.
Regent Lisa Parker said she was unwilling to waive normal procedures without a plan for reductions. “It scares me terribly,” she said.
Regent Darroll Hargraves told Johnsen to assure Dunleavy that regents were willing to make cuts but needed a longer “glide path” to do so.
Maria Williams, chairwoman of the University of Alaska Faculty Alliance, urged regents to hold off on decisions until they had tapped into the expertise and suggestions of faculty.
Johnsen said regents could take one of three approaches and all have pros and cons.
Administrators could simply cut every campus by a certain percentage, which would keep the current university structure but would be disabling to every unit, Johnsen said. Administrators could eliminate a major campus and some of the 13 satellite campuses. A third alternative is uniting all three major campuses under one accrediting banner and making strategic reductions, such as limiting fields of study to one campus each, Johnsen said.
This story has been corrected to attribute comments to Click Bishop, not Steve Thompson.