University of Alaska president says he is proud and confident yet concerned about system

Jim Johnsen delivers annual State of the University address in Anchorage, urges Alaskans to lobby Legislature

University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen speaks during an interview at the Juneau Empire on Wednesday, April 19, 2017. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

In his annual “State of the University” address, University of Alaska president Jim Johnsen urged Alaskans to support increases in funding for the university system and said the state’s public university has much to be proud and confident about.

 

“We’re all in, and we hope that you’re all in, too,” Johnsen told the audience at the University of Alaska Anchorage on Tuesday.

The State of the University was delivered as part of a luncheon forum with Commonwealth North, whose president — former lieutenant governor Mead Treadwell — introduced Johnsen.

In a half-hour speech, Johnsen made the case that the University of Alaska is a vital part of the state, and that the state’s pioneers — whether in 1867, 1917 or 1957 — “knew one thing really well: It takes a great university to build a great state.”

He said there is cause for concern with the state of the university’s finances. In the past three years, the university has seen its budget slashed. Today, there are “1,183 fewer faculty and staff than three years ago,” he said, then repeated that figure for emphasis.

“These cuts hurt badly, but the greater impact … is the impact to the state and our reduced capacity to serve our large unmet needs for higher education,” he said.

Last year’s Legislature authorized spending $317 million in state support of the university. (That figure does not include revenue from tuition, fees or federal support.)

The university’s governing Board of Regents suggested increasing that figure to $341 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Neither the governor nor the Legislature have been inclined to follow the regents’ suggestion. In December, Gov. Bill Walker proposed a budget a few hundred thousand dollars below last year’s figure, or about $317 million again. The Legislature has not yet finished its work, but it is not expected to vary greatly from the governor’s suggestion.

Johnsen urged attendees to talk to their lawmakers and tell them to increase funding for the university system and approve a sustainable fiscal plan to avert further cuts.

“We should be concerned because since 2014, our state has been disinvesting in higher education,” he said.

The Anchorage location of Johnsen’s speech was a departure from last year’s event, which took place in Juneau’s Hangar Ballroom as part of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce’s luncheon series.

Johnsen will return to Juneau Wednesday for a Lunch and Learn presentation to be held at noon in the Capitol. The House subcommittee in charge of the university’s budget is expected to finalize its recommendations in a meeting starting at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.


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