ASUAF president responds to UA streamlining plan

ASUAF President Mathew Carrick addressed UA System President Johnsen’s “Strategic Pathways Model,” which would streamline degree offerings at UA campuses, at the Jan. 31 ASUAF senate meeting.  ASUAF has maintained a position in favor of horizontal cuts, according to Carrick, which would reduce funds for all universities and departments, rather than implementing vertical cuts, which would eliminate entire departments and areas of study.

The Strategic Pathways model falls into the latter category, as it would likely result in the promotion of STEM degree paths at UAF and the elimination of liberal arts programs, which would be emphasized at other UA campuses where those fields are already a primary focus.

“Each of the three universities will focus their research, teaching, and outreach activities on that university’s unique set of strengths, capabilities, advantages, and opportunities,” Johnsen wrote in a Jan. 25 email address to the UA community.  “Each university will serve as a ‘lead campus’ in its areas of focus for the UA system.”

This plan has been under consideration by Johnsen for some time.

“We can’t have two of [the Geophysical Institute], right?” Johnsen said in an October interview. “We really don’t need, we can’t afford, additional graduate programs in areas where we already have one.” 

The Board of Regents (BOR) discussed and unanimously approved a move forward on Johnsen’s plan during their Anchorage retreat Jan. 21-22.

Carrick is working to secure meetings concerning the proposed changes with university officials, including Johnsen, Interim Chancellor Mike Powers and Vice Chancellor Mike Sfraga.  Carrick prefers horizontal cuts strategies, and has a number of concerns about the effects streamlining would have on students and university communities.

He cited art and theater in Fairbanks, where the university programs are intertwined with other organizations in town, as an example of how these changes might have a negative impact.

“UAF Theatre… is really the heart of the Fairbanks theater community,” Carrick said.  “The Fairbanks art community would be hurt by shifting arts programs to Juneau.”

Removing redundant programs would also reduce opportunity for degree paths to offer perspective unique to location, according to Carrick.  Fairbanks, Anchorage and Juneau all have degree paths that offer study of public policy and each campus gives specific context for those studies based on what is going on in the region.  If only one campus were to offer studies in the field, Carrick said, perspectives would be lost.

Decreasing study options will also eliminate the ability of many students to attend a campus in or near their hometown to save money, Carrick said, if they have to go to a different campus in order to pursue an education in their preferred subject.

“For me, Fairbanks is the right university,” Carrick said.  “But for others, Juneau is the right university, or Anchorage is the right university.”

Streamlining will take away students’ choice in where they go, he said.

The Strategic Pathways Model puts an emphasis on e-learning options, according to Johnsen’s email address. This is another point of contention for Carrick, who questions the value of distance education as a primary source of learning.

Carrick is not convinced that alternatives to vertical cuts have been appropriately considered.  He and ASUAF supported a 9 percent increase in tuition last semester, although the Board of Regents ultimately settled on a 5 percent hike.

“I have absolute respect for the administration and leaders at UAF and on each individual campus, but I don’t think this is necessarily justified yet,” Carrick said.

The BOR will continue to refine and draft the framework for the Strategic Pathways Model, which will be discussed along with a timeline for implementation, at their February meeting.  A working document will be maintained and posted on the BOR website.

The presentation of the streamlining plan will take place Feb. 18-19 in Fairbanks.

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