With no veto override, UAS chancellor expects layoffs at Southeast campuses

Bronze whale sculpture at UAS

A scale model of the humpback whale sculpture at the University of Alaska Southeast campus, Aug. 14, 2015. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

The vote to override Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s line-item vetoes fell short again Thursday in Juneau. With more than a third of legislators absent, there was little suspense, but University of Alaska Southeast student India Busby said that didn’t make the news any easier.

“I mean, I knew that it was going to fail, which I hate. I hate that. I feel in a way that my state is kind of falling apart,” Busby said. “You know, I was born and raised here in Alaska, and just watching everything that’s happening is really hurting me.”

Busby will start her senior year at UAS in Juneau this fall — if she returns at all. The 23-year-old creative writing and sociology student said her school’s uncertain future has her considering finishing college in the Lower 48.

Dunleavy has said the $130 million cut to the UA system would primarily impact the Fairbanks and Anchorage campuses. But UAS Chancellor Rick Caulfield said every campus relies on statewide UA services.

Rick Caulfield in his office on Monday, June 26, 2017.

Rick Caulfield in his office on Monday, June 26, 2017. (Photo by Quinton Chandler/KTOO)

“So it’s not reasonable to assume that UAS and the community campuses would not feel the impact of these reductions,” he said. “I think almost certainly we will.”

If the 41% cut to the overall UA budget stands, the UA Board of Regents will likely declare an official process to rapidly downsize. 

“Whether it’s consolidating programs, eliminating programs, campuses, what have you. So it is an unprecedented action if we go there,” Caulfield said.

Caulfield said that could happen as soon as Monday, July 15.

He said it’s very likely that will include significant layoffs of staff and faculty at the Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan campuses.

For Busby in Juneau, that’s what worries her most.

“We’re a very small school, and a lot of the students are very close with their faculty and other staff members as well. And so the fact that these budget cuts are going to really affect them and, like, what’s going to happen with their job, it’s really upsetting, because these faculty members mean so much to us. It’s just devastating,” Busby said.

Adding to uncertainty for students, the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education notified 12,000 students — including Busby — this week that funds are not currently available for their grants and scholarships. Legislative action is needed to restore funding.

Alaska has a lot going on right now.

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