‘I’m not scared, I’m angry’: Public testimony overwhelmingly against UA consolidation

Dozens of people came to the University of Alaska Anchorage to give public testimony on the university’s future, the overwhelming majority were against a single accreditation model. (Photo Courtesy of KTUU)
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - UPDATE: The University of Alaska Board of Regents voted 9-2 Thursday in favor of receiving an expedited report on university programs as it considers the idea of statewide consolidation.

The next meeting will happen Nov. 7 and Nov. 8 in Fairbanks.

ORIGINAL STORY: Dozens of people came to the University of Alaska Anchorage to give public testimony on the university’s future, the overwhelming majority were against a single accreditation model.

Students, staff, faculty and community members told the Board of Regents that consolidation of three universities into one single entity is being rushed.

In late July, the regents voted 8-3 for the University President to prepare a model for single accreditation. A final vote on whether to accept that model is scheduled for November.

“When I read about what potential consolidation could do, I’m not scared, I’m angry,” said Natasha Gamache a UAA student.

Concerns expressed were at the potential loss of faculty, academic programs and the university’s reputation.

Keon O’Brien, a member of UAA’s student union and music student, said he feared that consolidation would see students leave the university and state. “They want to stay but if they leave, there’s a good chance they won’t come back.”

A survey taken of UA stakeholders told a different story. Dr. Cutcher-Gershenfeld from Brandeis University conducted a survey of students, staff, administrators and Alaska tribal leaders.

He found that 52% of people believed it was important to have all of higher education operate as a single, integrated system with programs and courses available at campuses statewide. 50% of people then said it was also important to enable each campus to have its unique identity.

President of Kaladi Brothers and UAA alumnus Tim Gravel was concerned what consolidation could mean to each university’s identity. “I caution you against making it all one because what you could lose is pride.”

Testifiers repeatedly expressed sympathy for the regents as they prepared to make tough decisions. Under an agreement signed with the governor, university officials are looking at a $70 million cut spread over three years.

The consensus was for a “consortium model” that would allow chancellors at each of the three UA campuses to make their own cuts locally.

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz came to give testimony, saying that the university and the Municipality of Anchorage could work to develop shared services for parking, landscaping and transportation.

He was also strident in his belief that the board should push back against the governor and the Legislature on future cuts. “Just because there are poorly considered decisions made in Juneau, there is no reason for us to accept that passively.”

Beth Verge contributed to this report.

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