In an emergency meeting Monday, the University of Alaska Board of Regents agreed to send a letter of response to an accrediting agency that expressed concerns with the university’s restructuring.
“The board, the president and the chancellors have all heard the concerns expressed by the NWCCU, our students, faculty, staff and the communities they serve,” the response letter says. It goes on to detail the actions the university has taken already after receiving the criticism.
The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) had sent a letter to the regents on Sept. 30 expressing concern that the university was not taking into account the views of students, staff and faculty as required by NWCCU guidelines.
NWCCU issues accreditation to higher learning institutions, and if it were to revoke the University of Alaska’s accredited status, it would render degrees from the three campuses — Fairbanks, Anchorage and Southeast in Juneau — effectively meaningless.
“Chair (John) Davies has assured the chancellors that the Board is fully committed to clear and appropriate division of authority and responsibility between the System and its institutions,” the response letter says. “A properly functioning relationship between the System and the institutions is essential, particularly in a time of scarce resources.”
Letters from each university campus stating that institution’s progress regarding stakeholder involvement were included following the letter from the regents.
Monday’s meeting was fairly brief, with only a little discussion amending some of the language in the letter. The letter is meant to show the university is closely following the commission’s guidelines and taking steps to respond to NWCCU’s concerns.
Language was added which stressed that regents were cognizant of the University of Alaska as a single legal entity, not to be confused with a singly accredited university.
At one point regent Lisa Parker submitted a motion to remove language saying the university was dedicated to the principle of “shared governance.” Parker said the restructuring process so far had not been inclusive enough of stakeholders’ concerns to merit such a declaration.
Several other regents protested and Parker eventually withdrew her motion, but she made it clear that including the voices of students, faculty, staff and community members was essential to the process moving forward.
Later in the evening Monday, the regents and President Johnsen heard public testimony from a few individuals who called in to express their support for the university system.
One caller from Anchorage called to express his support for the mining and geological programs at UAF.
“The mining program has strong ties to the resource industry in Alaska,” the caller said.
Jim Dodson, president of the Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation, called in to call for strong support for a central university system.
“The current situation has put the university in a very awkward position,” Dodson said. “Instead of unifying Alaska, people are fighting over various resources. This is not the time to divide the university.”
Following a $70 million dollar cut to the university system from Gov. Mike Dunleavy, the University of Alaska was forced to consider a range of alternatives to deal with its budget shortfall.
But as that process continued, NWCCU issued its letter questioning how the process was being handled.
“NWCCU remains concerned about the long-term consequences of reduced funding as it relates to student learning and educational attainment,” the letter said. It also said NWCCU was concerned about the level of inclusivity in the restructuring process.
The regents had been considering moving to a single accreditation model, but that proposal was halted following receipt of the letter. The issue will be taken up again once the UA Fairbanks completes its own accreditation process in 2021.
Shortly after the letter was released, the faculty senate at the University of Alaska, Anchorage reaffirmed their no-confidence vote in University President Jim Johnsen on Oct. 5.
Johnsen issued a video accepting responsibility for having contributed to a “fractured” university system.
The Board of Regents will have its next full meeting on Nov. 7, where they will have a “Strategic Workshop Regarding Roles and Responsibilities.”
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or email@example.com.