‘Strategic Pathways’ plan: initiative incites public outcry
Erin McGroarty / Sun Star
The most recent Board of Regents meeting drew a crowd of upset students, faculty and community members to the Butrovich building Friday morning, Feb. 19.
Many members of this crowd were there to address the board about the newly published “Strategic Pathways” initiative created by UA President Jim Johnsen.
This initiative was endorsed by the Board of Regents in hopes of balancing the budget and offsetting UAF’s deficit which is reaching nearly $42 million according to UAF Executive Officer and Vice Chancellor of Administrative Services Kari Burrell. However, while this plan may potentially balance aspects of the budget, it will entirely restructure the university system.
In a presentation given to the Board of Regents on Feb. 18, President Johnsen centered his focus on “eliminating redundancies” across the three campus system. This means most programs will only be offered at one of the campuses.
According to President Johnsen’s presentation, this plan will make UAF a campus focused on research in the sciences, engineering, technology and mathematics. UAA would become a campus focused on nursing and economic and policy sciences. UAS would become the campus dedicated to interdisciplinary studies and training programs to support the mining and marine industries.
Consolidating the three campuses and specializing each one for certain fields of study would result in the cutting of a considerable number of faculty positions, as these positions would no longer have a program to belong to at their respective universities.
The discussion of restructuring the system does not provide specific details about certain programs. Based on the testimonies provided Friday morning, this has left the public concerned for the future of those programs, specifically the College of Liberal Arts.
This sentiment was exhibited by the turnout at the meeting Friday morning. Students expressed their disappointment in the potential of their degrees being moved or cut. Professors defended their programs and the unique place they hold at each campus. Members of the community conveyed their distaste for what is felt as a jump too far in working to fix the UA’s money problems.
Brandon Boylan, assistant professor in the Political Science department, gave his testimony early in the meeting. His statement detailed the achievements and value of not only the Political Science department but also the Northern Studies program here at UAF, of which Boylan is the associate director.
“If not for the music program at UAF, I may not have attended college at all,” Jacob Lincoln, a UAF alumnus, said in his testimony.
Lincoln went on to emphasize the influence the university had on his eventual decision to move back to Fairbanks and settle down here.
Lincoln spoke to the board along with his father, Charles, who provided a personal story that emphasized UAF’s part in helping his children ultimately make the decision to attend college and join the professional world.
“I’m one of the few philosophy students left,” said Jesse Gray at the beginning of his testimony. It was during his statement that Gray stated his original intention of teaching at UAF following the completion of his degree. Gray said he may not want to return to the university if the UA system goes through with these changes.
Louise Bishop, 20, is a second year double degree seeking student working to achieve her Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and Bachelor of Science in Biology. Bishop emphasized the importance of interconnection between the sciences and the humanities.
She said that she is greatly disappointed in that she feels she needs to move to a different school, and potentially a different state, in order to complete these degrees in adequate programs. Bishop received a defensive response from board members, who asked her why she “doesn’t just move to Anchorage” to finish her Philosophy department.
“That is not the biology program I want,” Bishop explained. “I chose UAF because it had both.”
The College of Liberal Arts was not the only school that brought members up to express their concerns.
Charlie Parr, a graduate student at the Geophysical Institute at UAF, was born and raised in Fairbanks. Parr expressed the value he places in the unique research opportunities found through UAF. While Parr has plans to stay in Alaska following his graduation, he has concerns about the effect the restructuring of the UA will have on the community as well as the research at UAF. He is worried that many of these opportunities will move outside if the university does not work to retain top faculty, Parr said.
“I will stay after the change, but my children won’t,” Bill Shnabel, director of the Water and Environmental Research Center said.
Schnabel stated that he thinks the restructuring has the distinct potential to cause the University of Alaska to lose students and customers.
Advocates from a large variety of programs and centers across the university impressed upon the board the necessity of detailed and honest communication with the public and of taking into consideration the input of students, faculty and the community before making any decision that could change the UA system as we know it.
During the meeting, board Chairwoman Jo Heckman followed each statement by thanking the speaker for their input and asking questions about the statement when warranted.
At one point, a speaker accused Heckman and the board of making this decision too quickly before exploring all other options. Heckman responded by saying this change is “no one’s fault.” This statement caused a distinct stir in the audience. Many audience members felt the statement incorrectly shifted the blame off of the UA President and the Board of Regents.
More information on the “Strategic Pathways” initiative, including President Johnson’s presentation to the Board of Regents, can be found by searching “Strategic Pathways” on the UA website. Feedback regarding the plan can be given by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.