Eagle River Rep. Anna Fairclough engaged in a bizarre exchange with the University of Alaska president in a House Finance Committee hearing on the university last week. The exchange left us wondering, doesn't Ms. Fairclough believe in a university that values independent thought and the free exchange of ideas?
As president Mark Hamilton spoke to the committee, Fairclough bemoaned the fact that students and university staff who have come to see her opposed Chukchi Sea development, Pebble mine, Red Dog Mine and other resource development.
"Help me here in understanding how I should advocate funding more for a group that really doesn't want to see development go forward," Fairclough said to Hamilton. (An audio tape of the Feb. 3 hearing is in the Legislature's Basis system online).
In other words, if they want money from her, they have to think like she does. If they fail her litmus test, they are disqualified from the discussion.
Rep.Fairclough misunderstands her role as a legislator and misunderstands the role a university plays in our society and economy. (Though she's not alone-- other legislators have made similar complaints.) It is not a legislator's job to browbeat citizens into conforming to her views. Legislators are supposed to be representatives of the people. We are a representative democracy, not a legislative autocracy.
Universities are supposed to develop students' critical thinking skills. Students should challenge the status quo. They should test out all sorts of ideas.
That kind of intellectual environment is what produces the innovations and the highly skilled, highly motivated individuals needed in today's high-tech, information age economy.
Fairclough acknowledged many of these students are concerned about the environment and that the students support fisheries and want a healthy economy.
And her idea that the university should conduct forums so that students know how state government is funded is fine; the university does have such forums already.
But Fairclough went way too far with her demands for intellectual conformity.
University president Hamilton should have done a better job of standing up to the thought police on the committee, even though they control his purse strings. He sounded lame when he boasted about having the most conservative university faculty and student body "you will ever meet," and suggested students would grow out of their pro-conservation views as they mature.
This is the same Mark Hamilton who won an award from the National Association of Scholars in 2002 for standing up for academic freedom and freedom of speech.
Here's a taste of what Hamilton said back then in defense of free speech: "Attempts to assuage anger or to demonstrate concern by qualifying our support for free speech serve to cloud what must be a clear message."
Fairclough and other legislators should be proud that the students who come to Juneau care enough to get involved and stand up for what they believe in. The university's job is not to turn out pro-development parrots; it's to turn out students who know how to think for themselves.
BOTTOM LINE: Rep. Fairclough is out of line pressuring the university to turn out pro-development students.
City should take back executive raises to help overcome shortfall
As Acting city Mayor Matt Claman ponders how to make up an estimated $17 million shortfall in city revenues, there's a small but obvious cut he can make. His list should include eliminating raises for non-union city executives that went into effect Jan. 1.
Claman said Friday that the classification "executive" covers some true executives and some regular employees who do jobs that are virtually the same as union co-workers. There are about 40 true executives, he said, and cutting their Jan. 1 raises would save about $60,000.
True, that's not enough money to dig the city out from under a shortfall largely due to a crash in city investment earnings.
But scaling back raises for executives is an important example to other city workers and to taxpayers alike. It says times are getting tough for everybody, and even those at the top of the city heap will share the pain.
BOTTOM LINE: The acting mayor should cancel recent raises for city executives. It's real money, and an important symbol.