Since 2005 the UAA Housing Recreation and Activities program has provided residential students with a chance to experience Alaska and gain a much-needed break from studying. However, on Friday, April 6th it was announced that the program had been cut and would cease operation after the current semester.
The decision was announced by Business Services, the organization responsible for UAA’s auxiliary services, and was justified by budgetary concerns.
“We looked at the budget this year and there just wasn’t enough money to continue the program”, stated Bob McDonnell, Director of Business Services.
McDonnell, who assumed the position of Director of Business Services in July of last year, explained that the decision to cut the program was based upon the costs accrued by Recreation and Activities. He described the cut as “strictly a business decision” and said that it was a hard choice for everyone.
The program, run by Recreation and Activities Coordinator Manch Garhart, provides students with a safe and exciting way to experience Alaska with the aid of professional expertise.
Garhart explained that the program generally reaches between one third and one half of all residential students and provides a chance to build positive relationships while learning valuable life skills.
“The amount of people we’ve been able to reach is incredible. In the past six years we’ve had around 75,000 contact hours with students,” stated Garhart.
Recreation and Activities provides a number of low cost services to students ranging from advanced glacial ice climbing to the popular Alyeska ski trips. In addition to the outdoor events, the program also offers yoga, rock climbing and movie nights at the Bear Tooth.
“We’re meant to be accessible to all residents; we try to be all-inclusive,” said Garhart. “I still have former students come back and tell me how much fun they had, how much of an impact we made.”
The program, created in 2005, is a non-competitive, all-inclusive resource for residents and has facilitated around 515 trips with 650 days in the field, in only seven years. The program has a zero alcohol, drug and tobacco policy and fosters a positive social environment for students on campus.
“We hope that after students are done with the trips that they have a better self-awareness and sense of life skills. We hope to have a lasting effect,” explains Anna Hoffmann, Outdoor Specialist with the program.
Garhart and Hoffmann said that the program offers a way for stressed and overworked students to find a positive outlet. The program can help to combat Alaska’s comparatively high suicide rates by creating a sense of community and support for residential students.
“We really try to eradicate the stress and depression that can be so common on campus,” said Hoffman.
“We’ve had a huge positive impact on students, period,” added Garhart.
Though UAA does offer recreational activities through the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, the program is more academically based than that of Recreation and Activities.
The decision to eliminate the program has been met with general displeasure by students, with some forming petitions and writing letters in an effort to save the program.
Zachary Doig, history major at UAA, has voiced his concerns about eliminating the program with respect to foreign and out of state students.
“Most transfer and exchange students do not have the ability to own a car in Alaska, and Rec. offered a fantastic way to experience Alaska. I personally would not have committed to another year at UAA if I had known that Rec. would be cut,” explained Doig. “It is simply not worth it for most of these students to come to school in Anchorage without a means of getting into the wilderness.”
Doig says that he has received numerous testimonials from students who had chosen to attend UAA based solely upon the recreation program. The testimonials include students whose locations range from Delta Junction to Puerto Rico and give an outpouring of support for the recreation program. Doig stated that he plans to meet with Director McDonnell and Vice Chancellor Bill Spindle on behalf of students to discuss his concerns about the recent decision.
McDonnell acknowledged that some students are unhappy with the changes stating that both he and Vice Chancellor Spindle had received emails from former students. For the time being, students continue to express their support for the program with letters and petitions.
Supporters of the program have been especially appreciative of Garhart and Hoffmann whose jobs have been eliminated along with the rest of the program.
“Manch is a firefighter in Girdwood and teaches fire science at UAA and Anna is incredibly competent in outdoor leadership and student management skills,” proclaimed Doig. “These are people who, through incredible generosity and hard work, change student’s lives.”
Though the fate of the program looks bleak, Hoffmann says that she appreciates the opportunities she has had with the program and will continue to provide services until the end of the semester.
“This is by far the best job I’ve ever had, it’s been an honor to work with these students.”