University of Alaska Regents hear testimony on restructuring plan

(Creative Commons photo by Jimmy Emerson)
(Creative Commons photo by Jimmy Emerson)

The University of Alaska Board of Regents heard public testimony Thursday morning on its plan to restructure the University system in light of state budget cuts.

The draft Strategic Pathways plan, released Tuesday, is meant to cut costs by focusing each of the three main UA campuses into certain disciplines.

The proposal defines UA-Anchorage as the “metropolitan university,” responsible for health, policy and social sciences. UA-Fairbanks would be the “research university” for science, engineering and rural development. Southeast is labeled the “liberal arts and sciences” university, focused on fisheries, mining, and interdisciplinary environmental studies. The plan also retains a few core programs, namely education and management, across all campuses.

While the draft plan offers few details about which non-core degree programs would be eliminated, more than a dozen people expressed concerns in Fairbanks on Thursday that their area of interest could be impacted.

“I believe the presence of a robust music theater and fine arts curriculum at the University of Alaska Fairbanks has been a foundation upon which the arts community in Fairbanks has been built,” Jack Wilbur of Fairbanks told the Board. “And I’m concerned that the Strategic Pathways concept as presented might undermine that foundation.”

Others were concerned that narrowing UA-Fairbanks to an engineering school would harm other research areas. Douglas Cost is a PhD student with the International Arctic Research Center.

“UAF is not an ivory tower,” said Douglas Cost, a Ph.D. student with the International Arctic Research Center. “It is a location of real-world problem solving by faculty, adjuncts, and graduate students in their research and teaching. In order to help Alaskans deliberate, debate and shape the next 25 years, the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration and outreach must be supported.”

The Strategic Pathways draft doesn’t give estimates as to cost savings. But it does contain some specific and ambitious goals for student achievement, including increasing the proportion of Alaskans hired into Alaska teaching positions from 30% to 90%. The plan also seeks to increase the percentage of graduates in STEM fields from about 4% to 6%, as well as boost the number of graduates in health occupations.

The plan imagines three phases of restructuring, beginning this spring and finishing around 2019.

In a letter sent to UA faculty and staff Tuesday, President Jim Johnsen said the Board of Regents won’t be making any final decisions in their meeting Thursday and Friday. They will take public testimony again Friday at 9 a.m.