FAIRBANKS - The University of Alaska doesn't favor Fairbanks over its other campuses, and suggestions that the Board of Regents is biased toward the Fairbanks branch are an insult to the board, the university system's president said.
However, President Mark Hamilton told a House Finance Committee meeting in Juneau on Thursday that he and other university leaders want to improve collaboration among the system's branch campuses.
The Finance Committee is beginning an in-depth review of the university's budget request.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner said Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, told Regent Mary Hughes he thinks the system might have shown favoritism toward Fairbanks because that's where the university was founded. He suggested the university has failed to recognize "where the movement is" as population growth in south-central Alaska has outpaced that of the Interior in recent decades.
"This hasn't been any conspiracy. ... It hasn't been a plan. It's something that's been (happening) despite the best of wishes," said Stoltze, noting that lawmakers tend to protect university funding requests from their own regions.
Hamilton denied any favoritism, saying more than four-fifths of new university construction projects in recent years have gone to the Anchorage area, leaving the 15 other campuses to share the rest.
Regional funding differences result largely from decisions by lawmakers who are lobbied by leaders and advocates from their respective regions' campuses to stray from the Board of Regents' annual priorities, he said.
"You can help us enormously, and I think you've taken a beautiful first step," Hamilton said of the budget review being led by committee member Rep. Anna Fairclough, R-Eagle River.
Lawmakers are considering Gov. Sean Parnell's request to build a sciences center in Fairbanks, the only new proposal recommended this fall.
Hamilton and Hughes said campuses and programs could collaborate better. Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, asked Hughes whether the 16 branches compete for resources and, if so, whether that hurts efficiency. He referred to a 2009 legislative audit that indicated some programs, such as distance education, "lack a coordinated cohesive approach" to serving students.
Hughes, from Anchorage, said regents are trying to improve communication among the branches. Campuses and programs might deliver locally developed projects without first working closely with other branches to be sure all are working toward the same goals, she said.