Students, staff and other community members filled a meeting room in Anchorage on Thursday as the University of Alaska Board of Regents continued to consider restructuring options in the face of recent and future budget cuts.
The board listened to testimony that was largely opposed to a controversial plan to consolidate the University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Alaska Fairbanks and University of Alaska Southeast into a single UA with campuses across the state. Several voiced support for a more cooperative “consortium” model that would maintain the three separate universities and, they feel, better serve their unique locations and individual identities.
Here are some excerpts from the more than two hours of testimony.
Cora Lyon, UAA health science and biology student
“When I told people where I decided to go to university, I didn’t get the congratulations my friends did. I got, ‘You know it gets cold there, right? You know it’s dark.’ But the reason I told them was I wanted to do undergraduate research. In my freshman year I got my own research grant. … In the first month of my sophomore year, I’ve been invited to speak at an international convention along with NASA scientists. ... To change the way the university runs and functions would make it so this is less likely to occur and take away some of the special programs that are unique to UAA that really help the students get mentorships between faculty and people in professional fields and allow for students to get real-life experience.”
Ryan McCarthy, UAA women’s basketball head coach
“During this process, I heard that athletics was luxury. I would agree. It is a luxury to have an athletics program that does the most in community engagement, has the highest graduation rates, highest GPAs, and has some of the best branding of any program. …”
“I would advocate for UAA and UAF to have separate, distinct departments because of the uniqueness of our state. Athletics is just like fundraising. It’s loyal and local. So for us to think that we’d be able to gain the same financial support that we do right now — because I know athletics is one of the best fundraising for the university — would be naive of us to think.”
Alex Jorgensen, UAA student and student government member
“As a student, I think we feel we’re having this one one-university model shoved down our throats. And I know that’s hyperbole, but it’s how we feel. While we feel it’s being forced upon us, we’re being told the student body is being actively engaged. It’s not. Actively engaging the student body is not sending out a weekly email with a video update. … Actively engaging the entire student body is not having two or three conversations with a few people in student government.”
“The reason I can’t understand why we can’t handle these cuts regionally is ‘cause, A, we’ve already done it for this year. We already accommodated the cut for this year into our university budget. And B, over the past five years, we’ve seen cuts of this magnitude. ... We’ve seen it. We’ve done it. And over that time, UAA has increased its six-year graduation rate by 7%.”
John Lutterman, UAA associate professor of music
“By far the majority of our students are the first members of their family to attend college. Many of them live at home. They can go to college partly because they can live at home. It makes it more possible for them to afford to go to school. Many of them are working 20 to 60 hours per week, and as a result they often take time off. They leave for a semester, or a year, or longer, and then come back. And I mention this because as you are doing program reviews, as you’re looking at the strength of programs, it’s something you need to consider. ... It takes them considerably longer than the typical student in this country, but I’m very proud of the results we do get with those students.”
“I want to point out that if we are considering eliminating duplicate programs, that our students are not likely to go to Fairbanks or Juneau or anywhere else in state. If they can go to someplace other than UAA, they would most likely leave the state.”
Tim Gravel, president Kaladi Brothers Coffee and UAA alumnus
“I’d caution making it all one (university), because what you will lose — guarantee it — is pride. You lose that community’s pride in the university. … You really can’t overlook the community aspect and sense of pride that Anchorage has with UAA, and if it gets removed, you’re going to lose all that support from the business community.”
Georgia Burgess, UAA student and ski team member
“To be a Seawolf doesn’t just mean to be the best athlete, but we want to be extraordinary students, to be leaders in the classroom, to try and be the most compassionate and well-rounded people that we can be. ... What you don’t see is that in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, there’s an entire community of people that have Seawolves stickers on their cars. They wear green and gold proudly. And there’s people in Oslo, and Stockholm, and Innsbruck, Latvia and Hungary. There’s people all over the world that have bought into our vision.”