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UA prepares for hundreds of job cuts as state copes with budget decline

  • Author: Dermot Cole
    | Opinion
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published January 13, 2015

FAIRBANKS—The University of Alaska system is poised to shed programs and shrink with falling oil prices, preparing for budget cuts that are likely to eliminate hundreds of jobs at campuses across the state.

In a preview of what's to come at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers told the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday that spending reductions are likely to mean a loss of 200 to 250 full and part-time jobs over the next year, through a combination of attrition and layoffs.

"We're going to be a smaller institution than we are today," Rogers said of the months to come. "But we do think there's an opportunity for us to not go away crying, but really build an institution that's resilient."

Gov. Bill Walker has asked state agencies to prepare plans showing how they would cope with 5 percent and 8 percent budget cuts in response to falling oil revenue, an effort that would mean reductions at every UA campus.

Rogers said the impact would be magnified because increases in fixed costs have to be covered by additional reductions—putting the total UAF shortfall for the next fiscal year at $20 million to $30 million.

While UAF is further along in its budget planning than the University of Alaska Anchorage and the University of Alaska Southeast, those institutions are also preparing for leaner times, UA Vice President of University Relations Carla Beam said in a phone interview. At UAA, an 8 percent reduction would mean a cut of $12.9 million, which would be enlarged by whatever has to be trimmed from the budget to deal with fixed cost increases, such as negotiated wage hikes and utility costs.

UAA instituted a hiring freeze in December and is reviewing its budget options, UAA public relations manager Sarah Henning said in an e-mail. One element in that process is the extensive effort to rank programs by priority. While that is not directly related to the budget cuts, she said, setting priorities "will help us make informed decisions regarding program alignment and future budget decisions."

At the Fairbanks business lunch, Chancellor Rogers said the major budget moves are expected after the UA Board of Regents reviews the situation and Walker completes his proposed state spending plan. UAF reduced its workforce by 50 full-time positions and 100 temporary and part-time positions in the year that ended last fall.

"What we're looking at for the coming year, based on the governor's request, is a general fund reduction of somewhere between 7 and 10 percent," Rogers said. "There is going to be no part of the university that is unaffected."

To illustrate the scale of the reductions, he said it would be the equivalent of cutting all the state money that goes into UAF research. About 40 percent of the university is funded with state general funds, while the rest is from tuition, grants, fees and other charges.

The university knew in September that it would have to make cuts and it has been reviewing 46 programs to see if they might be closed, reduced, reorganized or maintained. "We have not yet made the decisions on those programs," he said.

The university is also looking at ways to generate more money, including tuition and fees. "We're proposing that we take another look at tuition, given that circumstances are very different from when the board acted last September," he said. In September, before the oil price collapse, the regents defeated a proposed 4 percent tuition increase.

Rogers said one of his priorities is to reduce spending while limiting actions that would damage student recruitment and retention.

"We think we can help provide a leadership position to help the state in its budget challenges. We know that the cuts are going to impact virtually every program and service that we have," he said. "But we also know that we're going to get through this."

He said it is part of "facing the reality of a new day."

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