Conversations with the President

Legislative session, budget tops the list

The legislative session, budget belt-tightening, tuition, the UAF heat and power plant, UAA engineering building, the concealed carry bill, a confidential UA hotline and employee wellness incentives were all fair game at the spring "Conversations with the President" event held Monday.

Vice President of Academic Affairs and Research Dana Thomas interviewed Gamble after staff members helped themselves to cookies, muffins and beverages. Anchorage Statewide employees joined via video conference link, thanks to OIT.

About the recently adjourned legislative session, Gamble pointed out that the cut to the university compared to the current year's budget is about $7 million in state general funds, or about $24 million less than what the Board of Regents requested. "The operating budget was pretty tough, and it's going to be tough to deal with. What I'm really worried about is FY16," Gamble said.

Thomas noted many other universities and states haven taken hits of 50 percent and more, in reduced state funding during the country's recession in recent years. Alaska, often off-cycle compared to the rest of the nation, is now facing budget cuts but not nearly as draconian as other state universities, Thomas said.

Thomas asked Gamble about the funding package for the UAF heat and power plant, specifically $2 million in annual debt service the legislature stated must be paid by students through either a tuition increase or a fee. There are many questions that must be sorted out first, the president said, and the process for how to consider this issue is just now starting internally. "It will be as equitable and fair as we can make it," Gamble said.

UA has made efforts to keep tuition increases as low as possible the last several years, but in this budget climate, President Gamble said, there's little doubt a tuition increase will be on the table.

The concealed carry bill also came up. The bill, SB 176 sponsored by Sen. John Coghill, did not advance to a floor vote. The university opposed the measure, but Gamble said he fully expects the issue will come up again. The university's strategy for dealing with the measure will be more of the same, focusing on the law and the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court allows for gun restrictions in certain sensitive areas. President Gamble and other university leaders, including all three vice chancellors for students and several community campus directors, argued that UA campuses ought to be considered a sensitive area where gun restrictions should exist. 

Shaping Alaska's Future also was a major theme during the conversations event, since the Board of Regents recently approved the 23 Issue and Effect Statements.

"This is now the law of the land for the university," Gamble said. The heart of Shaping Alaska's Future is "raising the bar," Gamble said, and showing prospective students, their families, stakeholders, the public and those outside of Alaska all the great things that UA is doing. Gamble likened the process of continuous improvement and innovation to doing chinups--once you're able to clear the bar, you raise it even more. (For more information about Shaping Alaska's Future, go to www.alaska.edu/shapingalaskasfuture).

The president also touched on the confidential hotline that's coming (the exact date is still to be announced); the $600 Healthyroads wellness incentive for employees; and his prediction that the university will ultimately join other colleges and become tobacco-free.  

The president answered a number of questions from the audience, and took the time to read legislative intent language contained in the state budget documents.

The next "Conservations with the President" event will be held in the fall. If you have ideas for questions or who should interview the president, contact Public Affairs Director Kate Ripley at klripley@alaska.edu or 907-450-8102.

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