The University of Alaska Board of Regents voted Wednesday to consolidate the university system's three schools of education into a single College of Education headquartered in Juneau, in an effort to increase the number of teacher graduates and streamline the administration.
The 11-0 vote to headquarter the school at the University of Alaska Southeast followed a reversal by UA President Jim Johnsen, who previously recommended that the single College of Education be led by the University of Alaska Fairbanks. On Wednesday, Johnsen said he wanted to modify his recommendation and have UAS lead the education college after receiving an outpouring of public input in support of the Juneau headquarters.
"At this time — difficult for me though it is to do — I've decided to modify my recommendation to the board," Johnsen said at the morning meeting. "My sense would be that this would be UAS' top priority as a university, obviously not neglecting its other mission elements, but this would be its No. 1 priority."
Johnsen said in an interview Wednesday that under the new structure, education faculty, classes and students would remain at sites across the sprawling, statewide University of Alaska system, but the College of Education's dean and administration would exist solely at the University of Alaska Southeast, eliminating the education deans at UAF and the University of Alaska Anchorage. All of the university education faculty across the state would report to the single College of Education based in Juneau, he said. UAA, UAF and UAS currently each have a school of education and each school has its own dean.
Johnsen said he had originally proposed that UAF house the single College of Education because he read research documents concluding that a school of education should be at a research university with a strong science, technology, engineering and math focus. Regents at their November meeting stalled a decision on where to headquarter the single College of Education, as some questioned why it should not be put in Juneau instead of Fairbanks.
Since that Board of Regents meeting, UA received more than 100 letters, emails and comments petitioning that the administrative home of the College of Education exist at UAS, not UAF, said a statement Wednesday from the university system.
At a Monday meeting in Juneau attended by Johnsen, the Southeast Alaska community came out in force to discuss why the single College of Education should have its administration in Alaska's capital city. Lisa Hoferkamp, UAS Faculty Senate president, said those who spoke in favor of the UAS headquarters Monday included Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, the Juneau mayor, former university chancellors and state lawmakers.
The City and Borough of Juneau also offered to endow the education program with a $1 million contribution. A letter to Johnsen and the Board of Regents from Juneau city manager Rorie Watt said the $1 million contribution could be managed by the Juneau Community Foundation and would support a school of education centered at UAS.
Watt said in an email Wednesday that the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly gave him authorization to offer the $1 million, and at Assembly meetings in January the local government would go through the appropriations and public process of making the contribution. He said the money would likely come from the municipal savings account and he anticipated that citizens and businesses might also choose to donate.
"We've spent years building up the savings to be able to use them to offset the impacts of difficult situations," Watt said in the email.
Johnsen mentioned the $1 million contribution at Wednesday's "special meeting" called to discuss consolidating the schools of education. Johnsen told regents that after listening to and reading all of the feedback from Alaskans across the state, he found that the number of comments opposing a College of Education headquartered in Fairbanks was "overwhelmingly greater" than those in favor. He said the feedback he received was not about any inadequacies at UAF but about how teacher education was a key program at UAS. He said there were also "very strong concerns" about the economic impact of moving teacher education leadership out of UAS.
"What I really learned, I think, from all of that input — conversations with statewide elected leaders as well as members of the House and the state Senate — was that this program was really existential to the University of Alaska Southeast, that the loss to the campus would be enormous at Southeast compared to the loss of leadership of teacher preparation at the other two universities," Johnsen told the regents Wednesday, referring to UAF and UAA.
UA regents praised Johnsen's new recommendation Wednesday and his willingness to listen to the public. In a 11-0 vote, the regents voted in favor of a single College of Education and then, in a second, unanimous vote, approved putting the college's administration at UAS.
UA Regent Jo Heckman said at that meeting that she had received numerous emails and phone calls about the single College of Education.
She said she believed that UAS "was the rightful place for the single College of Education" because of the university's leadership, including its chancellor, Rick Caulfield.
"You have what it takes to make this program shine," Heckman said at Wednesday's meeting, speaking to Caulfield. "I know you'll commit to it, you'll own it, you'll lead it."
A document provided this month to regents from UA officials said the UA system needed to move from three schools of education to a single College of Education to streamline operations under a singular governance structure. It said that for years the state's school districts have expressed frustration with having to deal with three different and competing administrative structures at UAA, UAF and UAS.
The recommendation to consolidate UA's schools of education is a part of the larger Strategic Pathways process — the university system's massive and ongoing review of its major academic and administrative functions.
Johnsen has not said specifically how much money the consolidation could cost or how much it could save. He said Wednesday that he was interested in saving money by reviewing UA's administrative functions, like information technology, but his goal was not to save money with the consolidation of the schools of education. Instead, he said, he wanted to improve academic outcomes.
"I was clear with the (UAS) chancellor down there, the regents were clear with the chancellor, that this is job one," Johnsen said. "This is it."
In the past six years, enrollment in teacher education programs at UAA, UAF and UAS has dropped by 18 percent, according to UA data.
Tara Smith, UA Faculty Alliance chair, said Wednesday that the statewide organization had not yet met on the regents' most recent vote, but said she was "really pleased to see the amount of support coming from the community for education generally."
"I hope all the people who were supportive of the College of Education remain involved and active in education in the state," Smith said.
Smith said there were "real concerns" about having all of the education faculty across the UA system become UAS faculty. She said the concerns included what that consolidation would mean for faculty members' promotions and tenures since the separate university programs operate under separate performance criteria.
Dana Thomas, UAF interim chancellor, said in an email to the Fairbanks campus community Wednesday that he did not have a lot of specifics about the transition to the new College of Education since the decision had just happened. He said it was important to remember that although UAS will administer the teacher preparation program, faculty members will continue to offer programs in Anchorage and Fairbanks.
"In addition, UAF students who are already enrolled in teacher preparation programs will be able to finish their degrees," Thomas said in the email. "Regardless of a change to organizational structure, there will be opportunities for students in Interior and rural Alaska to obtain the education they need to become great teachers."
Johnsen said UA will have to put together a planning team, which will provide an implementation report for the single College of Education by July 2017. The UA system will also have to ask for approval from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, which accredits UAA, UAF and UAS.
Johnsen said UA needs approval before it moves forward with implementation, and UA will search for a new dean for the College of Education.