When UAA first started talking about the Prioritization process, almost a year ago now, it was presented as an opportunity to examine ourselves in a comprehensive way. We could guess that Alaska’s and UA’s financial situation would get tighter, but there was no sense of urgency about it. I wonder if it was partly because cuts didn’t seem imminent, that some faculty wanted the process postponed until late 2014.
What a difference a year makes.
Now UA is looking at a drastically reduced budget as well as a new (old) way of distributing the dollars among the MAUs that didn’t serve UAA well when it was used in the past. The Prioritization “Champions” – Provost Baker and Vice Chancellor Spindle – came to the AcTF’s final meeting of the fall semester and reported that given various assumptions, they feared a cut of $7,000,000 to UAA for next year alone, with more cuts to come later. The news doesn’t seem any better now that we’re into January. As the legislative session kicks off, we can hope the amount of the reduction will be decreased, but it seems certain that there will be a reduction and that it will hurt.
For the coming year, faculty will have a voice in how the cuts are implemented only in the same old haphazard, incomplete way we always have. Who catches the right administrator in the hall? Whose sympathetic friends get onto PBAC? Whose new great idea is looked at in isolation, apart from the needs of existing programs that are also great and may be more important? Or perhaps more to the point, whose great idea is looked at apart from the needs of existing programs that aren’t quite great, but which are crucial and which desperately need what limited resources can be scrounged up?
This is not to say that decisions have been made in the past – and will be made this year – in a wholly arbitrary fashion. But they certainly will not be made with anything like the comprehensive approach we are trying to take with the Prioritization process, which should inform the cuts (and re-allocations/investments) for the next several budget cycles. Cuts are inevitable. Imperfect as the Prioritization process is, it does give us as faculty (and staff on the Support side) a stronger voice in what happens.
Sometimes the near-term choice has been framed as “faculty or the snowplow guys” with no one or nothing in between. From where I sit as a faculty member with no administrative aspirations, it does seem like there have been a lot of new admin positions created lately, and many of them have Chancellor or Dean in the title, even if preceded by multiple Associate-Vice-Assistant qualifiers. I assume these folks are all doing good work. But of course a key assumption of the entire enterprise is not that some people/programs/functions are lousy, but that some forms of good work are more central than others.
Seven million dollars is a lot of money. Even if half of that can be restored through the legislative process this year (Faculty Alliance, anyone?), and I gather that’s a very optimistic IF, 3.5 million dollars is a lot of money. And we can anticipate similar cuts next year and the year after? I don’t expect to LIKE all the recommendations that AcTF, or the STF, will make. But I think it matters that we on the ground, doing the day-to-day work of the institution, get to make them, and that the Champions promise to take them very seriously.