Chancellor Powers Takes on UAF Issues at 2015 Convocation

Megan Bennett / Sun Star

This Thursday, Interim Chancellor Mike Powers addressed an audience of mostly faculty and staff about new budget cuts and plans for the future.

After a brief introduction from new UA President James Johnsen, Chancellor Powers took the stage for the State of the University speech.

UAF Chancellor Mike Powers talks about budget cuts and plans for UAF's future at convocation. - Megan Bennett / Sun Star

UAF Chancellor Mike Powers talks about budget cuts and plans for UAF’s future at convocation. – Megan Bennett / Sun Star

UAF is in its third year of budget cuts. In 2014, UAF saw an $8.5 million budget gap. In 2015, the gap was $14 million. For the 2016 fiscal year, it grew to a $20 million gap due to a $13 million cut last year and $7 million in increased utilities and fixed costs.

The shortfall in the budget caused contract reductions, elimination of positions, layoffs and a review of 25 percent of academic programs.

A large economic strain on UAF is the completion of the engineering building. Construction is currently halted, due to a lack of funds.

“Funding to complete the engineering building remains our number one capital priority,” Powers said.

Only 5 percent of the building is considered usable. This doesn’t include labs or classes; only the exterior, a lobby and walkway. The completion of the engineering building will allow the university to open more programs to enroll students in high demand programs.

“Students want to enroll in our engineering programs,” Powers said. “Industry wants us to graduate more engineers. We need to get the building finished to meet the demand.”

In order to speed up the completion process, UAF is going to request two years’ worth of revenue from the state.

A significant percent of revenue comes from tuition. UAF has the second lowest tuition nationally. Due to the financial stress the university is undergoing there may be possible changes that affect UAF students directly.

“We will engage our students in the conversation, because tuition has been and will continue to be part of the budget discussion,” Powers said.

In order to keep UAF one of the most affordable schools in the nation, administration has been working to increase enrollment by marketing to school near and far. This will broadcast the programs and fields of study UAF have to offer

“So [they see] UAF as a top choice rather than a fall back,” said Powers.

“Though UAF is one of the top in the states for tuition, it is one of the last in the states for graduation of first time freshmen,” UAF President Johnsen said. Encouraging students to complete their degree is another goal the administration has been focusing on.

In the 2017 fiscal year, the university will request funding for fixed cost increases, which include the cost of fulfilling regulatory mandates by maintaining Title IX and disability support services.

Though UAF is going through its share of issues, Chancellor Powers highlighted the university’s achievements of the last 7 years which include the collection of $100 million; launch of the research vessel Skiluliaq; completion of the Murie building; expansion of the Wood Center; and initiation of work on a heat and power plant that is financially secure

Of the revenue produced by UAF Research, enrollment and fundraising yield the highest percent. Chancellor Powers state he was working to maximize these ventures.

“Additional effort on development and fundraising remains a priority,” Powers said.

UAF is the leading university in Arctic research and will not cede that role, Powers said. “Our presence in the Arctic allows us to capitalize on our strengths and open doors to new opportunities,” Powers said. “We must consider this potential for growth as a revenue source.”

During the Convocation, Powers’ highest emphasis on increasing UAF revenues was with fundraising.

Some initiatives in fundraising the university has planned are to raise $6.5 million to relocate the Alaska Center for Energy and Power to the fourth floor of the new engineering building, $1 million in new scholarship support, and $25 million the Troth Yeddha’ Park and an indigenous studies center to honor Alaska’s first people and help UAF serve students.

Following the speech, staff and faculty had mostly optimistic things to say about the current state and future of UAF.

“He drew on the challenges of the university,” said Ellen Lopez, assistant professor in psychology. “It’s scary times but [I’m] empowered to know that the university had gone through challenges and succeed.”

“I was happy to hear that Chancellor Powers and President Johnsen are getting into more fundraising,” said Ian Fernandez, equipment operator facility services. “But I’ve been here for a while so let’s see if they do what they say.”

“These are big goals. Grand plans. But this university was built on grand plans,” said Powers. “Challenging? Yes. But this university has come far in the last 100 years. It’s rather extraordinary to think how far we’ll go. UAF will make grand plans and continue to change the landscape of Alaska.”

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