As 'Devastating' Budget Cuts Put Degrees at Risk, University of Alaska Urges People to Contact Legislators

The University of Alaska has urged people concerned about recent budget cuts to contact their legislators, as they claim the slash in funding could put students' ability to graduate in jeopardy.

On Friday, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy signed the operating budget for the Fiscal Year 2020, which included a 41 percent cut in funding for the university. University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen called it "devastating," and on Monday, employees were given notice of furlough.

"Hopefully, we'll be successful in overriding the governor's veto in the legislature so we can pull that back but if we're not, that'll just be the beginning," Johnsen said.

Without success in the legislature, the Board of Regents will be asked to declare financial exigency, which could result in students being unable to complete their programs. With the future of the university in the hands of legislators, Johnsen urged the community to get in touch with their representatives and express the transformational benefits of the school.

"There is no strong state without a strong university. There is no strong economy in the country or the world without a strong higher education system and all that is endangered by this decision," Johnsen said. "So please raise your voice, make your views known to your legislator, that's the only step we have at this point."

University of Alaska-Fairbanks Chancellor Dan White also encouraged staff and faculty to become advocates for their school by speaking out in favor of a veto override of the budget cuts. Similarly to the university's website, White reminded faculty and staff members to do so through their personal emails and outside of work hours to avoid any questions being raised about the use of state resources.

university of alaska budget cuts advocacy
A protester is seen walking down the stairs of the State Capitol building as teachers from across the state of North Carolina march and protest in Raleigh the state capital on May, 16 2018. On Monday, the University of Alaska urged the community to write to their legislators to voice support for overriding the governor's veto of a budget line item that cut funding for the university. LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty

The University of Alaska-Fairbanks called contacting legislators the "single most important" thing people could do to help and offered advocacy tips. Among the advice was to keep the message to one page, get to the point quickly and ask for what the message's author wants. The school also encouraged its community members to share their gratitude for their representatives.

"Serving as an elected official is a huge commitment and is often a thankless job. Regardless of your political leanings, make sure to thank them for stepping up to serve Alaska and our communities," the school advised.

People are also showing support for the university through a petition. Created on Monday by Yan Matusevich, who wrote that his mother worked as a professor at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, he claimed the budget cuts would cause "irreversible damage" to the state economy. As of Tuesday afternoon, the petition gathered over 660 signatures of its 1,000-signature goal and with the vote only days away, Matusevich noted the urgency of the matter.

"Time is running out, but it's important to send a strong message to the Alaska Legislature and the Governor of Alaska to prevent the dismantling of an entire state's public education system," the petition said.

Financial exigency, the next step for the university if legislators are unsuccessful in overriding the vetoes, allows for the rapid downsizing of units, programs, services and personnel, according to the University of Alaska. If financial exigency is declared, it's possible students will be unable to complete their program. It's also possible that some components of the university could be closed, as well.

The Board of Regents is expected to meet on July 15, where, if necessary, they will make a decision about financial exigency. The meeting comes after the legislature's July 8 special session, where lawmakers will vote on whether to override the governor's budget vetoes. To override the vetoes, three-quarters of legislators would have to vote in favor, according to Alaska's Constitution.

In an announcement about the budget, Dunleavy informed people that over the past few years, Alaska used government. He pointed to the state's fiscal reality for dictating changes in the budget and said the vetoes shouldn't come as a surprise.

Although difficult decisions had to be made, Dunleavy defended the budget on the basis that it put Alaska in the position to balance the budget without new taxes.