OPINION: Stand up for the university
Published Sun. April 10, 2016
Fairbanks News Miner
FAIRBANKS — Throughout the last decade, Eielson Air Force Base was under attack. First there were proposals to close the base, then to take the F-16s away, and as a community, we fought back. All across the political spectrum Alaskans united to stand up for an institution of vital importance and we won. Now Eielson is going to host two F-35 squadrons and is a big growth element of our economy. Now another major pillar of our economy is under attack, and it is time that Alaskans rally to protect the University of Alaska.
Currently, there are two proposals for severe funding cuts to the University of Alaska. The House proposal would cut $50 million from the university’s budget. The Senate only proposes to cut $25 million, but that would still cost 400-500 jobs. Either proposal would greatly reduce educational opportunities.
Creative minds come from all over the world to our university to learn and grow into well-rounded citizens. This is impossible without an interdisciplinary approach — students might take math, linguistics and art classes, and all these things together produce great minds. We can’t keep shrinking a university education down by using a cost-benefit analysis. When you look at the big picture, you need a lot of elements to produce a great economy. We need all kinds of people — whether they are doctors, engineers, teachers or artists — to make a great Alaska.
I didn’t come to Alaska because of the university, but it’s why I stayed in Alaska to finish my degree. I then stayed here to start several small businesses and raise my family. I am one of several UA alumni in the Legislature. UA graduates have been leaders in every sector of our economy, and I hope that today’s students will stay here and help address the future challenges facing the state.
I sit on the House subcommittee that oversees the University of Alaska budget, and I was disappointed to see legislators continuing to say how they think a university should be run. Legislators come from all different backgrounds, but none of us have run a university before. We have a great system in Alaska, and the Legislature shouldn’t be micro-managing the faculty and staff who know best how to teach students and make a campus successful. It’s not our job to say which classes should be taught or which degree programs should be offered. We need to give the university all the tools and resources they need so they can remain a top-quality institution.
It puzzles me that every year the Legislature demands to know why graduation rates and other statistics aren’t higher, then cuts funding for the university — as if having fewer professors, advisors and classes will improve results. It won’t. There are efficiencies that can be made in the university system, because there will always be efficiencies to make in any organization. However, I don’t think the right way to go about streamlining is to make drastic cuts without researching what the problems are. That’s not smart. I wouldn’t do that in my business, and I don’t think we should be doing it to our university which is a much more complex organization.
We want more people to go to our university, not less. Adding insult to injury, a bill that just passed the Senate would allow concealed weapons on campus and undermine the Board of Regents’ authority on how best to run the UA system. This is a very controversial and divisive issue and is opposed by the Board of Regents, many professors, students and parents of prospective students. No one has reached out to me in the past saying that if we don’t have guns on campus, they’re not sending their kid to UAF, but I’ve heard the opposite. The Legislature decided guns can’t be brought into the Capitol, so why would we tell the university they can’t make the same decision?
The Arctic Science Summit Week held at UAF was a huge success, attracting scientists from all over the world to discuss issues affecting Alaska. We need more events like this, but they won’t happen if these funding cuts happen. The university is a big part of our community both economically and culturally. Now is not the time for drastic cuts. The university needs our support now. Let’s rally together as Alaskans and demand the University of Alaska be protected, just as we rallied to save Eielson.