University of Alaska-Fairbanks Cuts Means $200k Bite to Nome’s Northwest Campus

Deep cuts across the University of Alaska Fairbanks are spreading to satellite campus across the state, and Nome’s Northwest Campus is no exception.

Now in a third year of state funding cuts, the continuing low price of oil has left UAF facing a larger cut for the upcoming year than had been previously expected. In all, it’s a reduction in funding of $31.4 million. Increasing operating costs, paying off debt, and compensation increases mean the cut leaves UAF $20 million dollars short, and to make up the difference, cuts are happening across the board.

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Nome’s Northwest Campus. Photo: Matthew F. Smith, KNOM file.
Nome’s Northwest Campus. Photo: Matthew F. Smith, KNOM file.

Northwest Campus director Bob Metcalf says for the most part classes and degree programs are safe, but rural campuses will feel the sting mostly in fixed costs like personnel and facilities.

“All of the rural campuses, we’re taking a little bit bigger cut,” he said, noting proportional cuts will happen in Kotzebue’s Chukchi Campus and Bethel’s Kuskokwim Campus. (A full list of cuts to UAF is available online.)

“As far as the college is concerned,” Metcalf said, “[within] the College of Rural and Community and Development, the campuses are by far the largest expense.”

It’s a roughly $200,000 bite into the Nome campus’ budget. That means further reductions in travel and contract services, and leaving some unfilled jobs empty. Metcalf said that means one administrative staff job. A second job being left vacant, a library technician position, means the newly-refurbished Emily Ivanoff Brown Student Resource Center and Library will be left without anyone to run it.

“It was tough, but we purposefully kept the library position vacant because we knew this was going to happen,” Metcalf said. Now the campus “won’t have anyone to actually provide any library services.”

As a self-professed “lover of books,” Metcalf said the vacancy means shuttering the library, at least for now. “That’s one of the most painful one for me. I would say mothballing is probably the best way to describe it.”

Metcalf himself isn’t immune to the cuts. He and other administrators face unpaid furloughs this year, but it doesn’t mean he’ll work any less; essentially the same hours worked, but less pay. On top of similar budget cuts he expects over the next two years, Metcalf said he also thinks it’s just the beginning of furloughs for employees across the UAF system.

“The message … to everyone else is, this is the beginning of furloughs,” he said. “The university just passed regulations regarding furloughs, this past year. So now they have rules in effect to manage furloughs and the first furloughs are applied to administrators and I imagine that we’re going to see more furloughs through the system in the next year or two.”

Amid the cuts, Northwest Campus is also making an investment: an city land auction in December saw UAF officials dig into the university savings to buy the plots of land the campus has, until now, been renting. An unexpected opportunity, the sale cost about $450,000.

Though the sale isn’t fully complete, Metcalf said it’s a little easier to face the impending cuts knowing UAF’s long-term investment in Nome’s campus.

“The sale was approved … by the Board of Regents, and the whole way up to the very top,” he said. “So it does signify major support for a university here in our region.”

The fall semester at Northwest campus starts Sept. 3. Course listings for the fall classes are online.

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Matthew Smith is a reporter at KNOM in Nome.

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