The University of Alaska Board of Regents took on a full agenda in its meeting this week in Juneau. The agenda included meeting with the State Board of Education, reviewing the initial FY2018 budget request, considering a single versus the current three accreditations, providing support for the university’s Strategic Pathways process, recognizing the service of longtime Regent Mary K. Hughes, reviewing the performance of the university president and approving funding to complete the new engineering building at the Fairbanks campus.
The regents had a first look at and gave their initial support to President Jim Johnsen’s direction for his Strategic Pathways academic and administrative priorities. The regents supported Johnsen’s general direction in the seven administrative and academic areas that are under review as part of Phase 1 of the Strategic Pathways process.
Academic recommendations now move to implementation teams for work on the details, including financial implications, timelines and other details. Implementation of the administrative priorities may occur more quickly. Information can be found at alaska.edu/pathways.
The directions approved for Strategic Pathways include:
— Information Technology: Centralize most IT employees currently working in departments into a central hub on each of the university campuses. Create a systemwide IT governance council that would prioritize services and work to reduce costs.
— Procurement: Centralize systemwide administrative and policy authority at UAF and support a second office at UAA. Costs would be reduced through efficiency in purchasing.
— Research Administration: Consolidate research administration at UAF with service centers at each campus under UAF leadership.
— Engineering: No structural changes recommended, though the two programs at UAA and UAF would be required to develop common course numbering/descriptions, a common curriculum committee, joint advisory board and course sharing, to increase student choices and gain economies of scale for FY 2018.
— Intercollegiate Athletics: Pursue with the NCAA a waiver from the requirement that each program field a minimum of 10 teams or permission to form a consortium, combining the two programs into one with fewer teams overall. If those options are unsuccessful, modify the existing programs at UAA and UAF to reduce costs. The regents passed a motion directing UA to avoid eliminating athletic programs altogether. In all cases, the regents supported stepping up private fundraising for athletics.
— Management/Business: Task a team to reduce from three schools of management to two, at UAA and UAF, with specific degree programs delivered from faculty at all three universities. UAA would continue to offer a broad array of on-campus programs and report to the vice president for academic affairs and research on changing its Master of Public Administration to a Master of Public Policy in conjunction with the UAA Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) by June 2017. UAF would continue focus on its current on-campus and online master’s and baccalaureate programs. UAS would eliminate its School of Management and fold its current online business and public administration programs into the UAS School of Arts and Sciences.
— Education: Consolidate the current three schools of education into a single statewide organization, with the administrative head at one university and degree programs delivered on the three campuses and online. Based on best practice in high-performing school systems, the university would develop a plan for teacher education based on disciplinary degrees plus licensure and graduate programs. The administration would seek the regents’ formal approval of the reorganization in November.
Regarding accreditation, regents agreed with Johnsen’s recommendation to postpone—for the time being—any further move toward a single accreditation. “I’m reluctant to introduce something different on top of the momentum that we have going on Strategic Pathways,” said Chair Jo Heckman. “If at some point in that process we feel that we are not gaining what we thought we would be gaining, then we can reopen this discussion of three versus one. The door is open.”
In other action, the board engaged in its first discussion of the university’s FY18 operating and capital budget. The discussion was set in the dual context of budget cuts already taken over the last three years and, looking forward, a long-term and sustainable financial plan. The FY18 budget calls for reductions, but some reinvestments in key programs as well. If approved, the operating budget would include $335 million in state general funds and receipt authority for an additional $10 million, which would be raised through a tuition increase. The capital budget request included $50 million for deferred maintenance of facilities. Regents will review the proposed budget in more detail in October and take a final vote at its meeting in November.
Regents also approved a performance bonus for President Johnsen. An annual bonus of up to $75,000 was part of the president’s compensation package established by the Board of Regents when he was hired in July 2016. The performance goals in the plan are “stretch goals” that may require years to achieve. They focus on five key areas: student achievement and attainment, partnerships with Alaska schools, partnering with public entities and private industry, research and development, and accountability to Alaskans. Based on university performance against the goals, President Johnsen earned a bonus of $23,279. He will donate it to a specific university need and will make an announcement Oct. 18 regarding the gift he will make to the university.
Regents approved moving forward with issuing a general revenue bond package to complete the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ engineering building. The bonds will provide the funds necessary to complete construction of the facility by December 2017.
The board also met separately with the Alaska Board of Education and Early Development to align educational goals and programs to better address the need to develop a culture of education in Alaska. “The time is right for alignment with our partners in primary and secondary education,” Johnsen said. “Although it will take time to develop a strong culture of education in Alaska, I am confident that we can do it. Together we will work to elevate the status of teachers, invest in their development, line up our curricula, and expand opportunities for high schoolers to take university classes. We will need to engage our statewide communities in helping us develop educational excellence across our state. It is critical, and it’s going to be daunting work, but we’re all in.”
Gov. Walker visited with the regents Thursday and voiced his appreciation for the hard decisions the university is making to invest in the future while at the same time adapting to declining state funding. Additionally, Juneau’s legislative delegation—including Sen. Dennis Egan and Reps. Sam Kito and Cathy Muñoz, addressed the board about the impact the University of Alaska Southeast has had on the region, the critical nature of the workforce training provided, highlights of key programs offered through the university system and the vital importance of higher education to the economy of the state.
Regents also honored in a poignant round of personal remarks and by official resolution the 16-year tenure of Regent Mary K. Hughes, whose term on the board ends in February 2017.