UA president: Dunleavy vetoes ‘will impact everything we do’

University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen talks about the spread of the university’s campuses @360 in Juneau. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Governor Mike Dunleavy’s vetoes include a $130 million reduction in state support for the University of Alaska system. That’s in addition to a $5 million cut to UA approved by state legislators. Combined, they reduce state support for the university by a $135 million, or 41% from the FY 19 level. Dunleavy says he has faith that university leaders will be able to work through the loss.

“I believe they can turn the University of Alaska into, if not the finest university of the Arctic in a few select areas. I don’t think they can be all things for all people,” Dunleavy said. “That’s generally speaking… the state of Alaska. We can’t be all things for all people.”

The reduction in state support will immediately impact university operations, as the new fiscal year starts July 1st. University officials say if the veto goes through, over 1,300 staff and faculty would lose their jobs.

Speaking to UA Regents during a special budget meeting Friday, University President Jim Johnsen underscored the severity of the cut.

”This budget will impact everything we do in every location where we operate,” Johnsen said. “Every student, every faculty member that we employ, every staff person that we employ.”

Dunleavy included a similar UA cut in his original proposed budget. Johnsen described the reduction as devastating, irrational and outside what university administrators have planned to accommodate.

”We were estimating a $30 million cut, a $40 million cut, a $50 million cut and a $60 million cut,” Johnsen said. “While severe, these were manageable. The cut is more than twice the most extreme cut that we anticipated.”

Johnsen says the cut means plans for an orderly downsizing plan cannot be followed, and he listed immediate actions being taken.

”A hiring freeze immediately effective, a travel freeze immediately effective, unnecessary contracts with vendors and contractors immediately effective,” Johnsen said. “We will be distributing a furlough notice to all our staff immediately.”

President Johnsen says the university is also stepping up advocacy to encourage legislators to override the governor’s veto.

The Dunleavy administration says that the line item veto for the University system primarily affects the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses. At a press conference, University of Alaska Anchorage chancellor Cathy Sandeen said that the cuts represent about 40 percent of their funds. While campus closures were a fear throughout the system when the governor announced his proposed cut in February, Sandeen said that she doesn’t anticipate that for UAA.

“We are located in the largest city in Alaska. We’re the commercial hub, the health care hub. the media hub, the government hub, really, the Native corporation hub,” Sandeen said. “So it’s difficult for me to envision an Alaska without UAA.”

But Sandeen says it’s likely that several programs at UAA will close if lawmakers don’t override the veto. She ruled out departments, like the nursing program, which are only available at the Anchorage campus.

The Dunleavy administration said funding for the University of Alaska’s community campuses, including in Juneau, will remain intact.

Alaska Public Media’s Wesley Early contributed to this report.