Dear President Jim Johnsen
I realize you’re a busy man, and I realize life can’t be easy right now. The Board of Regents needs you to make budget cuts, the Alaska State Legislature won’t give you the money you need to maintain every facet of your university system and you’ve now subjected yourself to students, faculty and community members airing their concerns right at you.
It can’t be easy to find the right words to say to every concerned coach who is afraid that their sport will be cut, to every worried faculty member who is afraid their program won’t be available for future students and everyone else who is worried about their favorite program being eliminated. However, I left the open forum you hosted on Wednesday, Sept. 7 concerned that you not only couldn’t find the words, but you couldn’t find the compassion to tell these individuals you were fighting for them and your university.
The thing I noticed from attending UAA’s open forum and watching the news reports of the open forum at UAF was something not many people will notice. I’m an English major, and hedged language is something I notice right away in speeches and in writing, both academic and not. If you don’t know, hedging is the art of being cautious with your words, using things like “most believe” or “there is hope that.” Every word you spoke to the audience was filled with your hopes that maybe we might make it out of this with our programs in tact, and how you certainly, probably, maybe thought the case might be that we won’t have the money to do everything like we used to. Did you not prepare to hear students, staff and the community pour their hearts out at you about how we just want to pursue academic excellence, get our degrees and get a good job eventually?
When people pour their hearts out to you, they want to hear answers. They want solutions. They want to know that you’re doing everything in your power to fight for what we hope you believe in. Angry and frustrated students won’t believe you when you say that you understand if you won’t give them a direct answer or response. I watched so many people walk away from the microphone frustrated because you didn’t respond, or all you said was “Yes!” and nothing came of it.
You repeatedly said you understood where we were coming from; that you went to college, you said your son played sports… I’m not sure you really understand how hard it is to watch your legislators tell you that your education isn’t a priority to them and then watch it be thrown away in favor of other things, or another legislative session.
If you want students to feel confident in your abilities as UA President, Mr. Johnsen, I hope that you come out and offer some words of hope. I want to be able to tell my friends that our futures at this university will be bright because you’ve done everything you can to help us out. This could include writing more letters to legislators, testifying to Governor Walker, helping students get to Juneau or helping UAS students work with the government, or maybe even taking a look at how much you make versus how many faculty you’ve had to cut this year. You make the hard decisions, yes, but the professors and faculty here work incredibly hard to make sure that we’re getting the best education we can with what little our university seems to be giving us back.
You have the power to help. I can only hope that you use that power responsibly.