University of Alaska structure to be reviewed by new task force

By  | 

The chair of the University of Alaska Board of Regents has announced appointments to a task force that will explore options for the university system’s future structure, outlined the options the group will consider, and set out the process the task force will follow. The task force will be advisory to the Board of Regents, which is constitutionally responsible for governance of the Alaska’s state higher education system.

“The task force is comprised of respected Alaskans who bring a mix of leadership experience in higher education, business and government,” said Board Chair John Davies. “Members were selected from a variety of backgrounds for their demonstrated commitment to the university and the state including private sector leaders as well as former university faculty and staff, along with a student representative.”

The university has been improving its cost effectiveness, reducing low enrollment programs and streamlining processes for several years, but Davies said the urgency for this in-depth review responds to ongoing state funding cuts for the university and legislative intent language encouraging the regents to consider transitioning UA from three separately accredited institutions into one, and to provide an update to the legislature by December 1, 2019.

The Board of Regents voted to establish the task force at its May 9 meeting after a discussion of possible state funding cuts and university plans to invest in strategic priorities. Davies said the task force will consider at least four potential structural options for the UA system:

1. Status Quo – Three separately accredited universities with the community college campuses part of their respective regional university.
2. Lead Campus – Three separately accredited universities but with more focus of specific academic programs at each single university along with expanded availability of courses across the system via distance delivery. Also, reorganize the community college campuses to report to one of the lead campuses.
3. One University – A single accredited university for all of Alaska with the community colleges organized as a unit within the university.
4. Three independent universities – Three separately accredited universities and associated community colleges with independent administrations and no statewide administration.

The task force will assess these and possibly other options for the university’s structure using existing strategic plans as well as the vision established in UA2040 (www.alaska.edu/ua2040), the work done in the Strategic Pathways process, assessments and recommendations from past reviews of university structure, and input to be gathered from key stakeholders over the next several months.

The issue of the university’s structure has been addressed numerous times over the years. In 1974, the university restructured from a single university to three separately accredited universities and numerous separately accredited community colleges, and in 1987 the community colleges were integrated into the universities, resulting in the current organizational structure.

Process and Schedule

Davies anticipates that the task force will begin meeting this summer with the goal of providing a progress report to the Board of Regents in September and a final report in time for the Board of Regents November meeting.

Davies said a report from the regents on the task force recommendations and stakeholder meetings will go to the legislature in December. “The Board may decide upon on a course of action at its meeting in November,” Davies said, “or continue its deliberations on these options into early 2020.”

Task Force Members

Davies said the eleven-member task force includes:

• One former and one current member of the Board of Regents: Jo Heckman and Sheri Buretta
• Three Alaska private sector leaders: Tom Barrett of Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., Aaron Schutt of Doyon Ltd., and Joe Beedle, former CEO, Northrim Bank
• One rural Alaska leader: Reggie Joule, former legislator and mayor and currently a lobbyist for K-12 education
• Three retired UA faculty members: Terrence Cole of UAF, Cathy Connor of UAS, and Gunnar Knapp of UAA
• One former UA executive: Wendy Redman, former UA executive vice president
• One student: Joey Sweet of UAA

Although Davies does not plan to participate as part of the task force, he will convene the group and appoint the chair. Information about the work of the task force can be found at www.alaska.edu/bor/taskforce