USUAA counter cuts with Harry Potter-inspired campaign

For the last few weeks, USUAA student government has been running a postcard advocacy campaign to fight back against the state legislature’s threat to cut the university budget.

“I think the potential benefit is huge,” USUAA President Stacey Lucason said. She explained how the cut has moved from $53 million to $35 million to $25 million, and the most recent development being a suggestion of $20 million from the Senate university subcommittee.

“They’re reducing the cut, and I think a lot of that is people reaching out and talking to their legislators and letting them know, ‘this really is important and we need enough money to be functional. Please don’t cut our legs out from under us,’” Lucason said.

“So I get that this is a challenging year and that there are lots of people with lots of needs,” Lacason added. “But I don’t think the legislators interact with the university as much as some of the other things that are being discussed … I don’t think all the legislators think about the university as an investment, or think about all of the value that it adds to the citizens of Alaska.”

She argued that this is something many students care about, but they haven’t necessarily had an easy way to express their feelings about UAA to their legislators. So she decided to start the postcard advocacy campaign.

“This way they (students) can write their story in a way that’s easier to access that doesn’t require that you go downtown in the middle of a class day and get up in front of a bunch of people and talk,” Lucason said.

Faculty, students and staff have all been affected by the news of the university’s imposed budget cuts. When USUAA was campaigning Thursday, professor Jill Flanders Crosby from the Department of Theatre and Dance ran up to the table asking if only students could sign.

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“This is our university. This is the future of our state. We have to support our students, we have to support education, otherwise we go nowhere,” Flanders Crosby said, adding that she has worked for the University of Alaska system since 1976.

“When our budgets get cut so drastically, what winds up happening is that pretty soon the university is run by money. We will only offer what will make us the most money, rather than being about what truly serves the needs of the student. This is about education and what is good for the student — it’s not about how much money you can make. When we lose our budgets, that’s what begins to happen. I see it happening right now at this university and it’s really sad,” Flanders Crosby said.

Students walking through the Student Union echoed her words.

“I regard education as being a fairly critical element in the development and continuation of a nation or state. A budget cut is not a good thing. There’s a multitude of different options, and we could cut elsewhere in our budget,” student Quinlin Harris said.

Lucason said the campaign was inspired by a trip the coalition of student leaders made to Juneau — and “Harry Potter” as well.

“The general consensus from a lot of the legislators was that this wasn’t important and that students don’t care, and I just didn’t believe that,” Lucason said. One of the Anchorage representatives suggested if they could have a thousand people write a letter, students would actually find some traction in Juneau.

“One of the USUAA senators had read ‘Harry Potter’ and said they do this cool thing where they send one letter, and then they send two letters and then they send a dozen,” Lucason said, citing that as an inspiration for how the campaign has been conducted.

Lucason said USUAA would have done this campaign sooner, were it not for uncertainties surrounding what would actually be cut. It was not until around spring break that the House announced what cuts they wanted to make.

“If we send it … early in the season, it’s kind of premature and there’s nothing to talk about yet. So we had to wait a little bit. And then there was another week just getting the whole process together,” Lucason said.

Lucason said USUAA’s next step will be a phone campaign, where they help students follow up with their legislators to ask if they’ve received their postcards and reaffirm why it matters.