USUAA makes ‘a little bit of progress’ on Juneau advocacy trip

In an interview with members of UAA's student government, TNL learned what the organization is advocating for and whether or not much change can be expected.

USUAA members stand in front of Alaska State Capitol Building. Left to right: Joe Pavia-Jones, Helena Ballard and Jason Ritter. Photo courtesy of USUAA.

UAA’s student government, known as the Union of Students University of Alaska Anchorage, or USUAA, recently took a trip to Juneau to advocate for the needs of the university. They were joined by other student governments from across the UA system for a week of university advocacy. They focused on issues such as deferred maintenance, campus security, student mental health support, athletics and staff compensation.

In an interview with TNL, USUAA President Helena Ballard and Senator Joe Pavia-Jones explained what they and their fellow USUAA members accomplished on the trip to the state capital. Pavia-Jones said the issue on which they had the most success was “probably security.” 

“A lot of legislators didn’t know, like, how bad it was, the security. So when we told our own personal stories about it, it kind of helped them realize, like, ‘oh they need more funding for this,’” Ballard said.

On security needs across the UA system, Pavia-Jones said, “Talking with other campuses, we kind of realized how much of a bigger thing [the issue is]. It’s not like one campus is [less secure] than the other. It’s just, like, pretty much every campus.”

Pavia-Jones said that the security “workforce is stretched thin” and that there is “a lack of staff.” 

Ballard said that the Mat-Su campus uses one of the Anchorage campus officers to provide limited security during the day. 

“And then at night they don’t have anything — and that’s when most of the crimes happen,” she said. “So we’re just trying to get them to have more security, and not just for four hours a day.”

Ballard said that USUAA is supporting the UAA Board of Regents’ operating budget, which calls for $1.02 million to be allocated to security. Their main goal in Juneau was to help lawmakers understand the need for this money in order to get the funding passed into law.

The other big issue — deferred maintenance — has been a hot topic on the UAA campus this semester after multiple flooding incidents occurred back-to-back in the Consortium Library, Social Sciences Building and Fine Arts Building.

Ballard said the USUAA team advocated “for House Bill 236, which is the University of Alaska Maintenance and Modernization Fund.” If passed, the fund would allocate $35 million yearly toward deferred maintenance across the UA system.

Although House Bill 236 would be good for the university, it would only be a drop in the bucket in terms of the necessary funding required to fully bring the university up-to-date on maintenance.

The university has deferred maintenance of “$1.5 billion,” said Ballard and Pavia-Jones in unison when asked how much money the university actually needs to take care of all maintenance issues.

USUAA is also working to increase student fees that would, in part, be used for deferred maintenance — specifically for upgrades to the Student Union. “That’s if Chancellor Parnell ever approves that,” said Pavia-Jones. “So we did write a resolution to help fund our Student Union,” but Parnell has yet to “sign off” on it.

In a follow up email, Ballard wrote that “Chancellor Parnell did decline the Student Union fee increase at this time, he wants to look into it more and see if there are other funding opportunities for the student union that aren’t student fees.”

When asked if USUAA is making progress on its key issues, Pavia-Jones said, “I think a little bit of progress.”

Ballard said, “I would say it’s hard. There are barriers, like with the governor. We can’t do anything if he vetoes all of that [increased university funding]. But, I think we made a little bit of progress, especially with security this week.”

Pavia-Jones said that the main sticking point is money. The state has only so much money and “the governor doesn’t always like to spend money.”

On the issue of mental health, Ballard said that they made progress in talks with the National Alliance on Mental Illness about getting the organization on campus as a student mental health resource.

When asked if there is anything that USUAA is looking forward to or feeling optimistic about, Ballard said that she is excited for the upcoming USUAA elections that will take place in April. 

Ballots will be made available via email on April 2. Ballard said that there are plans to hold debates before the election date, but there is not set time yet.

“Anyone can run [for USUAA],” said Ballard. Interested students can fill out a petition packet that can be found on the USUAA website.

Ballard “absolutely” encourages people to run. “Especially delegates, I feel like that’s a really important role … from each college we usually don’t have as many as we can have.”

Each college is allocated two delegates which are the hardest positions to fill, said Pavia-Jones.

As a final thought Ballard said, “If anyone has anything, like concerns, questions or wants help with anything, they can always come in the office and ask us. Or, we have a board thing they can leave a sticky note or something if they want it to be anonymous.”