​University of Alaska system furloughs its own president

The university told Campus Reform that even more may be soon to come.

Amid the global COVID-19 crisis, the University of Alaska system announced significant furloughs, including its own university president.

While the current public health situation is a factor, this reflects long term strains on the UA system.

Facing serious fiscal troubles, the University of Alaska system announced Wednesday that it would furlough more than 150 administrative employees, including University President Jim Johnsen.

In a public statement directed to the University of Alaska community, President Jim Johnsen said the furloughs are necessary to deal with numerous financial issues the system is facing.  Though Johnsen stated that COVID-19 related burdens were taken into account, his letter stressed that other factors influenced the decision.  Factors he cited included “an unprecedented impact of the reduction in state support” and “revenue shortfalls associated with declining enrollment.”

In the statement, Johnsen noted that a total of 166 system employees are being furloughed, including himself, the chancellors, senior executives, and top administrators.  He also stated that faculty who lead departments and hold other leadership positions will be furloughed for eight days. Designated officers, such as himself, will have a longer ten-day furlough.

Johnsen noted that the total impact of the furloughs on the University of Alaska budget is predicted to be  $554,000.

[RELATED: Amid ‘devastating’ budget cuts, this is the moment of truth for U Alaska]

University of Alaska Director of Public Relations Kirstin Olmstead told Campus Reform that while no decisions have yet been made about a second round of furloughs, “decisions surrounding additional furloughs are taking place at this time.”

This first round of furloughs comes not only amid the coronavirus crisis but after the University of Alaska system battled more than a year of budgetary challenges.  In 2019, the Governor of Alaska exercised his line-item veto power to slash spending he considered to be excessive, including $130 million directed toward higher education. 

That April, Reuters reported that the university system’s board of regents voted to declare financial exigency-- the academic equivalent of bankruptcy. This measure allowed the system to implement nearly unheard-of cost-cutting measures; including shuttering entire academic programs and administrative dismissal of tenured faculty.

Johnsen’s administration dutifully executed these cost-cutting measures, while maintaining an optimistic outlook on higher education in the frozen north.  However, an abnormally steep decline in enrollment this year, and the unexpected consequences of the coronavirus pandemic have brought even more trouble to Johnsen’s administration than expected previously.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Leo_Thuman