University of Alaska president proposes single college of education at Fairbanks

University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen says the university system should have one school of education with its dean in Fairbanks, closing separate education administrations in Anchorage and Juneau.

Johnsen announced the proposal Friday as part of the continuation of his Strategic Pathways, meant to eliminate duplication and focus on the strengths of each of the university's three main campuses while trimming the budget and increasing the number of graduates. The process has led to the proposed elimination of skiing and indoor track teams as well as the proposed elimination of the school of management at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau. Business classes would still be offered at UAS in Juneau, just as faculty would still offer education programs and classes at the University of Alaska Anchorage and at the Southeast campus, according to the proposals.

However, UAF would become the only administrative home of the single college of education, with just one dean there to oversee programs at Anchorage and Juneau as well as Fairbanks. UAA and UAS education faculty would all become UAF faculty under the plan.

It remains unclear just what the plan means for administrative staff in Anchorage and Juneau and how many positions would be eliminated — if any. Robbie Graham, UA spokeswoman, said those details would be worked out by a planning team, appointed by Johnsen and led by Dan White, UA vice president for academic affairs and research.

According to the prepared statement on Friday, the Board of Regents still must approve Johnsen's proposal, as does the the Northwest Commission on College and Universities, which accredits UAA, UAS and UAF.

Johnsen said in the statement that he chose UAF as the School of Education hub after consulting with "key internal and external stakeholders, university leadership and educators," plus feedback from the campuses and the regents.

But the UAA Faculty Senate is not pleased and passed a resolution Friday afternoon disputing Johnsen's arguments to consolidate to one education college administered by UAF. The resolution said the regents should reject Johnsen's proposal because of its "unknown impact on accreditation, inadequate faculty involvement in the decision-making process, and failure to follow established due process procedures."

Diane Hirshberg, director of UAA's Center for Alaska Education Policy Research and professor of education policy, said Friday she was "stunned" to see how fast Johnsen made a decision on identifying an administrative hub, after just announcing to the regents in September that he would recommend consolidating the three education schools. She said there needed to be more conversations that involved education faculty and that discussed the impacts of having an administrative center hundreds of miles away from other campuses.

"Where is the research that says this is evidence-based, best practice for teacher education and that this is why we are making these changes, rather than because we're not happy with the way things are going so we're going to change the bureaucratic structure," she said.

UAS Faculty Senate President Lisa Hoferkamp could not be reached for comment Friday. Deborah Lo, the UAS education dean, said in an email that faculty and staff were still processing Johnsen's announcement and would formulate a response at a later time.

"Today was spent responding to student and community members concerns and reassuring them that we will be there for them as they complete their degree programs," she said.

The UAA Faculty Alliance and the statewide Faculty Alliance have passed resolutions calling for Johnsen and the Board of Regents to not proceed with Strategic Pathways until faculty gets a greater voice in the process and until UA statewide, headquartered in Fairbanks, publishes a cost-benefit analysis of the Strategic Pathways options.

According to the prepared statement, Johnsen is planning to move forward with the one-school education model. He said the team he appoints will create a plan that will include provisions for students to complete degree programs, as well as increase student enrollment and completion rates. A goal of Strategic Pathways is to increase the university system's production of teachers hired in Alaska by 60 percent by 2020 and by 90 percent by 2025.

The Board of Regents next full board meeting is schedule for Nov. 10-11 in Fairbanks.

Tegan Hanlon

Tegan Hanlon was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News between 2013 and 2019. She now reports for Alaska Public Media.