Financial exigency likely means UAS layoffs and program reductions — but not before fall classes begin

Students gather outside at the UAS Auke Lake Campus on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

The University of Alaska Board of Regents voted yesterday to declare financial exigency. That clears the way for rapid downsizing, including significant layoffs.

Kevin Maier teaches English and humanities and serves as chair of the Humanities Department at the University of Alaska Southeast. But right now, he’s on vacation. On Monday, while his family went to the pool, he stayed in. On one screen he watched the Alaska House of Representatives debate a capital budget bill, and on another he tuned into the UA Board of Regents meeting.

The House failed to pass the bill. But the regents took action: They declared financial exigency for the University of Alaska. Maier said it wasn’t a surprise.

“We’ve known that something like this was coming,” he said. “It’s still shocking when it actually happens.”

The board of regents will spend the next couple months considering paths forward. They won’t decide to cut or cut back any programs until at least September. But Maier said students are right to worry about reduced class offerings and flexibility. And while faculty layoffs are likely, he expects many of his colleagues to leave on their own, taking jobs out of state with more stability.

Maier said that’s something his family is thinking about too.

“We’re definitely having conversations about whether we stay and push back, and I think staying, unfortunately, might mean that I give up an academic career that I just spent, you know, really the last 25 years of my life both preparing for and doing,” Maier said.

While final decisions are still months away, UAS leaders have some idea already of what to keep and what to cut.

Speaking before Monday’s decision, UAS Chancellor Rick Caulfield said programs with larger enrollments are more likely to be retained. But he added that some smaller programs are valuable for other reasons.

UAS Chancellor Rick Caulfield in his office on July 10, 2019. (Photo by Zoe Grueskin/KTOO)

“Alaska Native languages, the languages of the Indigenous peoples of Southeast Alaska, typically don’t have very large enrollments. And yet I see that is a very important part of our mission at UAS,” Caulfield said. “So that’s an example of an array of programs that I would not envision going away, even though the numbers are relatively small.”

Even if the Alaska Legislature restores some funding to the UA budget, big changes are likely across the system.

In a month, UAS students will move into campus housing and start heading to class. The semester must go on.

Maier said he’s not quite sure what to expect.

“I think it’ll be very strange, right? Well, on the one hand, it’ll just be business as usual. We’ll be teaching classes, students will be engaged and we’ll do those parts of our jobs that we love. But on the other hand, we’ll know that these potential cuts are looming and are there,” Maier said.

Fall classes at UAS begin Aug. 26.

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