Undergraduate research and scholarly opportunities provide uplifting stories at the UA Regents’ board meeting
The FY17 budget was a major focus of both public testimony and board business during the two-day meeting of the University of Alaska Board of Regents in Fairbanks Dec. 10-11, but it was the individual student stories about their undergraduate research and academic excellence at the University of Alaska that stole the spotlight.
During public testimony, more than 40 individuals and groups talked with the regents about topics ranging from support for programs that have influenced their UA experience to undergraduate research involving children researching how the natural environment impacts their world. Regents also heard about important work being done on Arctic issues and the upcoming Arctic Science Summit Week in March 2016 and from a number of parents on how technical education and other university opportunities have benefitted their students and adult children.
“Our university system is focused on how to best serve Alaska, our nation and our world. From leading Arctic Research at UAF; economic and health research at UAA; environmental and marine sciences at UAS; UA students, at both undergraduate and graduate levels, are contributing to the future of Alaska and addressing the challenges and opportunities critical to our future,” said UA President Jim Johnsen.
Governor Walker released a state budget plan on Wednesday that included a funding reduction to the university of more than $15.7 million. The governor’s plan requires a balance of increased revenues, agency budget reductions and changes to annual dividend payouts that will be controversial in an election year. This leaves a great amount of uncertainty as to the scale of the final reduction to the university’s budget come the conclusion of the legislative session.
“Despite unprecedented challenges I am confident we will serve Alaska as a premiere education system,” said Johnsen. “We’ve may need to cut but at the same time we must invest in our unique programs at each university and move them forward.”
Pat Pitney, State Office of Management and Budget director, told the regents that although education is a priority of the governor, it is necessary to continue to make reductions to the size of the state budget.
“The single strongest predictor of the final appropriation is the governor’s proposed budget,” said Johnsen. “I will continue to advocate for our ask, but it’s not unreasonable to predict even deeper cuts.”
Johnsen has initiated a contingency budget planning process to guide decision-making in the months about the budget realignment ahead. The contingency budget will identify areas for investment along with vertical reductions.
Johnsen described it as an investment growth strategy. Each UA campus is crafting contingency budgets in anticipation of funding reductions. In lieu of across the board reductions they will be working on consolidations, program elimination, increased efficiencies, reduced administration and other efforts to guide the impact of the budget reductions. A list of programs that are selected for special review - whether for elimination, consolidation or investment - will be presented to Regents in January.
“There will be tough choices,” said Johnsen. “There will be people disappointed, but we have no choice when facing this fiscal situation. I join the regents in the commitment that we will be stronger as a result.”
Vice President of Academic Affairs and Research Dan White led an engaging conversation on eLearning across the university system. In recent years online courses have become an important part of student degree completion.
“The future of education will not be brick and mortar, it is in technology,” said Regent Gloria O’Neil. “This is one area we cannot cut.”
Officer elections were held and the Chair remains Jyotsna Heckman. Other officers are Vice Chair Gloria O’Neil, Secretary Kenneth Fisher and Treasurer John Davies. The one-year terms are elected each December.