A threat to the university

Photo credit: Alaska State House of Representatives

As the chair of the University of Alaska subcommittee, Rep. Tammie Wilson holds the future of over 32,000 students in her hands, and yet she is proposing some of the deepest cuts in UA system history.

Wilson proposed $288 million for a general funding level for the UA system, then upped it to $300 million, through influence in what I can only assume was pressure from her fellow subcommittee members, Wilson is still seeking up to $60 million worth of cuts. These cuts would have the potential to reduce 450 to 500 positions, possibly eliminating programs, tenured professors, and even advisors. University President Jim Johnsen responded to these cuts saying that “it’s not a good number at all.”

Sure, the cuts are inevitable. Even Gov. Bill Walker was recommending some $16 million worth of cuts, but $60 million? You have got to be kidding me.

To her, student instruction is the only thing that “legislators can agree” that the state should fund. Our universities, developed on the foundation of research, will no longer have the money to fund valuable arctic, fisheries, and medical research.

Her rejection of funding for the system and anything other than just teaching students seems to ignore that there are parts to a university that are more important than sitting in a classroom. Research allows students to explore their fields, and be better prepared to participate in their future careers. She seems to be concerned about Alaskan students staying in Alaska with her bill (HB 264) asking them to hurry up and use their Alaska Performance Scholarships within six years so they can move on to work. Why doesn’t she seem to care that those students who complete their degree, in her definition, “on time” had an enriching and valuable education?

It’s strange, however, that she seems to be so anti-education, when she herself has a bachelor’s degree in education. Sure, 1983 might feel like a long time ago to her, but education hasn’t changed all that much. You still need funding to offer degree programs. You still need money to pay teachers. You need money to offer internships and undergraduate research opportunities, and yes, you even need money to fund an athletics program, because it’s all valuable to the college experience.

congratulations from UPD to UAA graduates

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Wilson doesn’t seem to understand that there is so much more than just teaching at students so they can get a job after college. Research opportunities help students explore their field, and can even result in them spending more money and time in the state through a graduate program, which could result in them staying with a job here in the state. Cutting programs and funding only frustrates students, teachers and faculty, encouraging them to move out of state for their education, or not going at all. If her version of the UA budget passes, that might be how it goes. Even worse, if she alienates students through HB 264, pushing them to pay back free money that they earned by working hard, there may be a severe decline in students who attend UA schools.

Maybe that’s the goal of her and the republicans in the University of Alaska subcommittee. Eliminate the University, and that’s one less issue to look at come budget sessions. If she insists, as she did in a New York Times article regarding the budget’s influence of Alaska’s education, that “they can’t keep doing business the way they have,” then she should have looked at the way money was spent in the five years prior that she’s chaired the committee. Maybe, just maybe, this might have been her fault in the first place.

We encourage you to contact Wilson with your opinion.

Tammie Wilson

State Capitol, Room 412

Juneau: 907-465-4797

North Pole/Fairbanks: 907-451-2723