Editorial – Removal of the Rec Department, oh my!

Come celebrate 30 years!

UAA may be making a small, but resounding, mistake.

On April 6, the decision came to cut the UAA Housing Recreation & Activities program from the university. The reason, according to Business Services Director Bob McDonnell, centered on budgetary concerns that there wasn’t enough revenue to keep the rec program afloat.

There wasn’t enough revenue to a keep a program that gave students the opportunity to explore Alaska’s wilderness, gaining valuable experience, lifelong lessons and a chance to blow off much accumulated steam, afloat.

The Rec & Activities department has had a yearly budget of $174,000 – conversely, the total cost of construction for the Seawolf Sports Arena is projected to reach $109 million. We’re looking at cutting a program approximately 626 times less expensive than the incoming sports complex.

Of course, the valid argument is made that the revenue and mass public appeal from a giant, brand new sports arena is far beyond anything a program that takes college kids out for day hikes and camping excursions could ever do for the university.

But the administration should not overlook the benefits that small programs such as Rec & Activities bring to the student body, on a more personal level than anything related to budget revenues and public recognition. Remove money from the equation, which is a hard concept for most any university, and think about how it benefits the students.

Recreation & Activities has offered 515 trips since it started up in 2005. They’ve spent 650 days in the field, and had 75,000 contact hours with on-campus students. Without a doubt, this has given incoming freshman to UAA a chance to build up friendships and a sense of community among their peers. The same goes for out-of-state and international students, who are able to develop some familiarity with their new surroundings. Another significant benefit has been given to those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, a seasonal depression that leaves students unmotivated and in the emotional slums during certain parts of the year. The rec department has helped such students remain engaged, moving and supported, rather than succumbing to Top Ramen and television in the dorm rooms.

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And that’s another thing: nothing beats good outdoor physical activity, especially in the Great Final Frontier of Alaska. Students don’t need to rely on treadmills and dumbbells to stay in shape when they’re given the chance to hike Denali, climb ice walls, ski at Alyeska and go whitewater rafting.

In spring semester 2012 alone, 375-400 students went on trips through Rec & Activities, according to Manch Garhart, program coordinator. On a yearly basis one-third to half of on-campus residents routinely take advantage of this service. There is no denying the rec program has reached out to a large number of students on campus.

But apparently, when considering the fate of such a program, large-scale student impact is not the deciding factor.

The rec department may not look good on paper; it only charges students a small fee to participate, in order to fit within their potentially meager budgetary constraints. It brings in around $7,000 in revenue to the Residence Hall Association, less than half of what it costs to keep it running. From a purely business standpoint, the rec program is a sinking ship.

But the services Rec & Activities provides for students cannot, cannot, be so simply categorized into the confining terms of black and white budget projections. Extracurricular activities for students, especially ones that so embrace the outdoors of Alaska, have benefits far beyond the quantitative abilities of pie charts, bar graphs or scatterplots.

UAA offers other recreation programs. The Department of Health, Physical Education & Recreation offers “courses within the disciplines of physical education and related disciplines.” Gear Rental in the Student Union allows students to rent outdoors equipment for their own use. But neither utilizes the full potential of the Alaskan wilderness for students in quite the way that Rec & Activities has for the past seven years – and herein sits the crux of the matter.

Could these programs not have been combined, sharing resources, bolstering revenue and boosting student involvement, instead of completely cutting out Rec & Activities? Could expense reductions not have been made, streamlining spending to the benefit of not only the rec program, but other small programs as well? All in all, could some sort of compromise not have been reached?

Extracurricular activity is essential to a university’s functionality. Here at an Alaskan college, it’s ludicrous to believe an outdoor activities program is not essential as well. The overarching benefits from Rec & Activities – similar programs are provided by universities like Idaho State, UC Santa Cruz and University of Colorado Boulder – necessitates such reconsideration.