Tuition battle lines drawn

A proposed 10 percent tuition increase at the University of Alaska has students and faculty mobilizing to make their stances known – but not on the same side.


The Faculty Senate

Student governments at various UA campuses have been gathering student input and developing a position on the issue since it was announced at the September UA Board of Regents meeting. On Nov. 12, the regents will vote on the proposal.

After analyzing surveys and gaging student opinions on the issue, the University of Alaska Anchorage student government prepared to vote on a resolution against the increase at its Nov. 1 meeting.

At the start of the meeting, USUAA President David Parks motioned for a recess so the senate could attend the UAA Faculty Senate meeting where a motion in support of the increase was about to be voted on. The assembly immediately adjoined and made its way to Business Education Building 211. As they filed in the back of the room, the faculty passed the motion 20-7. Parks was disappointed they missed the discussion but said they didn’t know the issue was being discussed. The motion did not appear on the agenda.

“I guess we would’ve just wished they would’ve taken into consideration student opinion on the issue,” Parks said.

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Faculty Senate President Debbie Narnag said the motion was tabled at the October meeting. However, an adjustment was made to the agenda and the motion voted on when UA President Mark Hamilton requested an opportunity to address the Faculty Senate on the matter via audio conference.

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“There definitely was not, by any means, any hidden agendas,” Narang said. “Had the students let us know that this was an issue for them, we surely would have let a student speak.”

The student assembly quietly filed out of the room after a roll call vote was taken.

University of Alaska Fairbanks student president, and newly named Student Regent Derek Miller, was also caught off guard with a vote by the UAF Faculty Senate to support the increase. Miller said he had met with the UAF faculty president early in the day and received no indication the faculty would take a stance on the issue.

“All I have right now is a bunch of questions I want answered,” Miller said.

University of Alaska Southeast student President Mark Graves did not have any similar experiences. He said the UAS Faculty Senate has a motion on its agenda for the next meeting and expects it to pass.

“We’ll try to convince them it’s not in their best interest,” Graves said.


USUAA steps up to the plate

The UAA student government responded to the proposal with its own overwhelming opposition to the increase, but not without some healthy debate beforehand.

Sen. Chris Richter, in staunch opposition to the increase, argued that the regents hold the burden of proof to justify and explain why an increase is necessary.

“Thus far I’ve seen zero justification,” Richter said.

Sen. Lindsey Eberhardt echoed Richter’s arguments. Eberhardt said with projects such as the new University Center renovations, she didn’t see the threat of “the lights being shut off” if the increase wasn’t approved.

Several senators said the 150 survey responses from UAA students justified their opposition. Casey Reynolds, legislative affairs director for USUAA, estimates about 75 percent of the responses were against the increase. Other students said that since the survey wasn’t truly scientific, they could not deduce their decision solely based on the returns.

“We don’t have in our hands 15,000 surveys from well informed students,” Sen. Andrew Gardner said. “We have a scatterbrained survey that does not ask the right questions.”

Gardner argued that the assembly needs to look at how the quality of education and programs would be affected without the increase.

“They [the regents] are not asking for the money to put it in a mattress somewhere,” Gardner said.

Sen. Tasha Powell said the senators responsibility is to speak for the students and put forth their views.

“This senate has a tendency to discredit the students,” Powell said. “We are here to really represent the student. We vote what they say.”

The motion against the tuition increase passed with a vote of 15-4.


The Coalition of Student Leaders

The Coalition of Student Leaders, the student leaders from the campus governments, convened via teleconference to meld its united front in yet another resolution against the tuition increase. Student leaders decided their position once it was apparent several campuses had come out against the increase.

“I don’t think we have any other choice,” Graves said.

In addition to USUAA’s resolution, in the last week, the Soldotna campus joined with the Kenai College Council in a statement of opposition, the Mat-Su campus made its position of opposition known and UAF is drafting a resolution of opposition within the next week. UAS decided to focus its attention on the coalition resolution and Graves said they have no plans to present a resolution.

The coalition spent an hour in teleconference drafting its resolution and unanimously passed it at 6:30 p.m. The coalition took a moderate and considerate approach to tuition increases in general but plainly opposed a full, 10 percent increase.

“Now, therefore, be it resolved that the Coalition of Student Leaders does not object to a 3.6 percent increase; be it further resolved that the Coalition of Student Leaders strongly objects to a proposed 10 percent increase; be it further resolved, that the Coalition of Student Leaders stand firm in their belief that the cost of education in the State of Alaska should remain affordable at all levels,” the resolution reads.

UA tuition automatically increases 3.6 percent each year in response to inflation.

Miller, who as student regent will present the coalition’s stance at the Nov. 12 meeting, said there is a possibility of getting their point across and blocking the passage of the increase. The coalition estimates that the regents are fairly split in their vote on a tuition increase at this time. Miller said student statements during public testimony will be a factor as well as coalition and student government lobbying efforts with the regents.

“It just matters how we play this,” Miller said.