The University of Alaska announced Friday that scores of top administrators will take five to 10 days of mandatory unpaid leave as part of a larger plan to pare spending.
The furloughs for 167 employees in leadership positions throughout the university system are a response to the state budget crisis, said UA President Pat Gamble.
Gamble called the furloughs "appropriate" in light of the 5 percent tuition increase approved by the UA Board of Regents in February and said he "hasn't received any hate mail" over the decision.
He said he's most concerned about retaining the professors and researchers who are the core of the university system.
"If those people get driven away because the Lower 48 is hiring and we lose them, it will take a decade or more to get all those people back into Alaska and rebuild the university's reputation," Gamble said in a phone interview.
Carla Beam, vice president of university relations, said with budget cuts across the system, university officials "felt we needed to demonstrate leadership first by taking those furloughs." Beam, who made $203,580 in 2014, said she anticipates working on some of her furlough days but will encourage others to take the time off.
"I feel I'm well and fairly compensated," said Beam, who heads the university foundation and leads lobbying efforts at the state and federal levels.
The university estimates the furloughs, which will apply only to the fiscal year starting July 1, will save about $600,000. The university endured about $17 million in state budget cuts last year, and Beam anticipates another $30 million this year. There was also an $11 million increase in operational costs last year in part because of maintenance for new structures, including the engineering building and sports complex on the Anchorage campus.
Affected positions include the president and the chancellors at each of the university's three major campuses in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Juneau. They, in addition to each university's provost, will be assigned 10 furlough days each.
Other affected positions include senior administrators, who will get seven furlough days, and faculty whose academic leadership roles preclude them from being union members.They will be assigned five furlough days.
Abel Bult-Ito, president of United Academics, one of three faculty unions across the UA system, said Friday the move to furlough the university's highest-paid officials sent a positive message.
"I just hope that this is not simply a media strategy," said Bult-Ito, a biology professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. "If they announce similar furloughs for other employees in the near future, it would just be that." He emphasized that the 950 members of the union he leads are not subject to the furlough policy.
Gamble said announcements of more cuts will follow as the three chancellors "do what they have to do to meet the budget shortfall."
At UAF, the furloughs will affect 55 employees, said Kari Burrelle, vice chancellor for administrative services.
"We gave our folks a heads-up yesterday by phone and a memo this morning. I would say the reaction overall was understanding given the budget environment we're in."
UAF announced academic program cuts and consolidations this week that would save about $1 million over four years, with more cuts in nonacademic areas on the horizon, Burelle said.
At the University of Alaska Anchorage, the furloughs will affect 69 employees and save about $270,000. Campus officials expect to announce more cuts in the next few weeks to programs and personnel.
"We imagine we will be announcing some layoffs and contract reductions and positions not filled," said spokeswoman Kristin DeSmith.
University of Alaska Southeast Chancellor John Pugh said 13 employees will be furloughed.
Pugh said UAS has eliminated its pre-engineering program and is phasing out its master's degree in business administration program. The Juneau campus is also reducing temporary faculty positions and has eliminated eight administrative positions, including vice provost and vice chancellor posts.
"We're trying to keep our programs together and it looks like we'll be able to do that," Pugh said. "But it's hard to know what will happen with the next round of reductions if there are any next year."
Gamble said he is considering cuts that would affect the 200 employees working for the university system on a statewide basis.
"Is there anyone willing to volunteer to work a shorter day or anyone eligible to retire who would? We would count all those before going to pink slips," he said. "We're talking to people and seeing what we can do."
Gamble's salary in 2014 was $320,000, plus $9,730 for a vehicle and other expenses, according to a state report on executive compensation. He plans to leave his post on Sept. 1, three months later than originally announced. Gamble said the regents asked him to stay on after four new board members were confirmed.
"There's so much going on with budget cuts and finding a new president, I understand why they're feeling swamped," Gamble said. "They just asked for more time."
Gamble, who became university president in June 2010, plans to retire and says he will become a snowbird. He'll live in Alaska for half the year and spend winters in Texas, on a lake near the Louisiana border.
"I'm done," he said. "This will be it for me."
Alaska Dispatch Publishing