University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen delivers 2020 State of the University after turbulent 2019 budget cuts

On Friday afternoon, University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen delivered the State of the University address from the downtown Marriott Hotel in Anchorage. The address follows a year of financial tumult for the university system in the wake of Alaska governor Mike Dunleavy's proposed cuts to university funding from the state. (UA)

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) On Friday afternoon, University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen delivered the State of the University address from the downtown Marriott Hotel in Anchorage.

The theme of the address was undoubtedly cost-saving. The economic situation of the state and university guided many facets of Johnsen’s speech: whether it was his proposed imaginary scenario of the UA system adopting the phoenix as its mascot, or whether it was down-to-brass-tacks details of measures the university system would be taking in order to operate in a leaner, more efficient way.

This is not surprising: in the summer of 2019, the university declared financial exigency, which would allow it to take extreme cost-cutting measures to reconcile Governor Mike Dunleavy’s proposed 41% cut to the university’s state funding.

The UA system managed to avoid the wholesale cut of its budget, opting for a smaller cut over a period of time rather than all at once. However, Johnsen mentioned during the speech that the alternative they negotiated was less than preferable.

“At the Board of Regents direction, we're examining both academic programs and administrative services for cost savings across the UA system,” Johnsen said. “These programs are being reviewed according to criteria that are set forth in board policy. They include quality and cost and demand and access, the availability of alternatives, and alignment with the board’s five strategic goals.”

The five goals Johnsen mentions include economic development, workforce development, research, educational attainment, and bottom line cost-effectiveness.

Cost-cutting aside, Johnsen discussed a variety of issues. He extoled the virtues of Alaska Native culture as an advantage Alaska holds as a state, as well as its wealth of resources.

He also discussed 1.5 million dollars’ worth of new scholarships which would be passed out to students across the university system.

In multiple instances throughout the address, Johnsen mentioned another seemingly-inevitable trend sweeping educational institutions throughout the nation: online classes. “Access not just in physical campuses…but also through literally dozens of completely online programs,” said Johnsen.

He praised the University of Alaska system for its affordability. “It reports that our average tuition is the third lowest of any state,” Johnsen cites from Alaska’s higher education agency, the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education. “The percentage of student debt that our students incur is the second lowest in the United States.” He also mentions that the University of Alaska comes in fifth lowest in the country for the percentage of the cost of the entire university system borne by students.

As Johnsen began summing up the address, he recounted a parable from his days in the private sector, where a woman he once worked with was laid off, and eventually earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees in social work from the University of Alaska with her severance pay and through the aid of scholarships.

The moral of his anecdote praised resilience in the face of instability. “Stability is simply not possible in the face of [a] fast changing economic and demographic and technological environment; forces outside of our control,” says Johnsen. “Stable organizations don't change, and typically as a result, what happens to them? They fail.”

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