Alaska News

4 things that make no sense about UAA telling child care center to leave

During an open forum this past Thursday, UAA Chancellor Tom Case, UAA Vice Chancellor Bill Spindle, UAA Vice Chancellor Megan Olson, and other members of the Chancellor's cabinet were asked a simple question -- straight up -- "Is there a chance that Tanaina can stay on the UAA campus?"

Their response was "No, not in its current space." So then they were asked, "Can Tanaina stay anywhere on campus?" and, again, their response was "No."

It seems clear that, citing drastic budget cuts that calls for UAA to "make tough decisions" and become more cost- and space-efficient as well as save lots of money, the Tanaina Child Development Center on campus is being forced out and its 35-year relationship with UAA is being cut. Permanently.

The reasons being provided by UAA Administration, however, do not make sense.

Better use of limited space

The UAA leadership is consistent in saying that the offices for new student recruitment, admissions, enrollment services, and financial aid are the services they intend to move into Tanaina's current basement space on campus. These services are currently at UAA's offices in the University Center Mall, which is located approximately 2 miles from campus. Maybe the current Tanaina space will get bigger to fit all of these services and entities after this summer's renovations, we don't know, but their point is that Tanaina's space will be utilized for other services that serve all 15,000 UAA students and not just the 60 or so UAA families who are served by Tanaina. From UAA's perspective, this does look like a significantly more efficient use of limited space.

However, we need to realize that although the services that are currently located at the University Center are indeed relevant to all UAA students and staff -- and not just the 60-something families served by Tanaina -- not all students and staff utilize such services on a daily basis all year-round. In fact, most university students probably use such services only once or twice per year, if at all. So sure, 15,000 students are inconvenienced to have to travel 2 miles once or twice per year -- or 3 to 4 times during their entire college career -- in order to take care of some paperwork. On the other hand, however, the students, faculty, and staff who are served by Tanaina utilize Tanaina's services on a daily basis, almost year-round. Even further, the students, faculty, and staff who go to Tanaina every day are trying to take care of something more important than university-related paperwork.

Saving money

In her Feb. 5 Alaska Dispatch News op-ed, Vice Chancellor Megan Olson indicated that UAA has donated the space to Tanaina for 35 years, and has paid for utilities and maintenance costs -- all of which combine to be around $39,000 per year (note: this is a measly amount, even after you add on the additional one-time costs of $65,000 and $17,000 that Vice Chancellor Olson mentioned, compared to how much other universities contribute or subsidize their own on-campus child care centers). This is the amount of money that UAA will save by evicting Tanaina out of UAA and by severing its 35-year relationship with one of the best child care centers in Anchorage, a relationship that was "mutually beneficial" for both parties -- as even Vice Chancellor Olson would say. But it looks like -- in UAA's eyes -- this mutually beneficial 35-year relationship is worth less than $39,000 per year.

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The UAA administration's unfortunate minimizing of the value of this relationship becomes even more depressing -- and ridiculous -- when you realize that Tanaina's yearly contributions to UAA are worth far more than $39,000. By being located on campus, Tanaina:

• Allows parents to become UAA students (i.e., pay tuition and fees)
• Facilitates the productivity of students, staff, and faculty who have kids in Tanaina by providing the peace of mind that comes with knowing that their children are literally just feet away
• Hires UAA students so that they can earn money so that they can take classes at UAA (again, more tuition money)
• Serves as a research and practicum site for UAA students so that they are able to meet their education requirements
• And facilitates the degree completion and life successes of UAA students, faculty, and staff by various other means (enriches the campus climate, improves general well-being, etc.).

So how much is a 35-year mutually beneficial relationship worth? How much does Tanaina contribute to UAA per year? How much has Tanaina contributed to UAA over 35 years? We believe that Tanaina's value, and what Tanaina contributes to UAA, is worth way more than $39,000 per year.

It’s for Tanaina’s own good

The UAA Administration also point out that Tanaina has a long waitlist, and because of the limited space it has now, it cannot support more than 60 or so children and their families. The UAA administration then suggests that this is yet another reason for Tanaina to move out of the UAA campus -- so that Tanaina can grow and serve more people throughout Anchorage, where quality childcare is needed. In Vice Chancellor Olson's own words: "We all know Anchorage needs more high-quality child care." So, according to UAA, Tanaina's eviction is for Tanaina's own good; in fact, it's for the greater good of Anchorage. The UAA Administration is also quick to say that they have assembled a "task force" that is charged to find a bigger and better off-campus location for Tanaina.

This "Hey Tanaina, we're doing this for your own good" twist seems to be a disingenuous attempt to look good to the public. It's even an attempt to fool the general Anchorage community by suggesting that UAA is evicting Tanaina to help solve the larger problem of the lack of quality child-care in the community.

Isn't it amazing that despite all the budget cuts, UAA is still able to find a way to solve Anchorage's most pressing problems?

Furthermore, with the task force, UAA can even say that "look, we're even helping you grow." However, this task force is nothing but the "Tanaina eviction task force," because its charge is to facilitate Tanaina's move out of campus and to end the Tanaina-UAA relationship -- permanently -- while also making it look like UAA is being benevolent.

Yes, Tanaina needs to grow. Its space needs to improve. But that's a different problem, a problem that Tanaina -- due to the creativity and resourcefulness of its staff -- has been able to deal with somehow over the past 35 years. Yes, Tanaina's waitlist is long. But that's a different problem that many UAA students, faculty, and staff are fine dealing with because the quality of childcare and the on-campus location of Tanaina are worth waiting for. In fact, Tanaina's long waitlist is largely because it's on campus and part of UAA.

The real problem right now is that UAA is evicting Tanaina. The real problem is that the UAA administration does not see the value of having a child-care center on campus to serve their students, faculty, staff, and the rest of the Anchorage community. That is the problem.

No one should twist it around to suggest that this foolhardy decision is for Tanaina's own good or spin the issue to suggest that evicting our campus's only child-care center is somehow for the greater good of the larger Anchorage community. Kicking Tanaina off-campus and forcing it to "fend for itself" and telling it that "it must meet the child-care challenge" of the Anchorage community is not what's good for Tanaina.

What is good for Tanaina is for it to continue to have the unique benefits of being located on campus, of having highly-trained UAA students be a part of Tanaina staff, of being influenced by UAA faculty on various innovative childcare best practices, and of being connected to UAA and its degree programs. What is for Tanaina's own good is to continue this successful and "sustainable business model," a model that has been around for 35 years (that looks pretty "sustainable") and only costs UAA $39,000 per year -- which Tanaina more than makes up for with the services it provides to UAA (that looks like it makes a lot of "business sense" for UAA) -- as discussed above.

Tanaina's physical location on campus and "mutually beneficial" relationship with UAA is a big part of what makes Tanaina succeed and thrive and become one of the best and most sought-after child care centers in Anchorage. This is what's good for Tanaina. And, actually, it looks like that's good for UAA too.

UAA cares about the future, the state, and all students

All of these thoughts about Tanaina's eviction being "good" make us think of the students: Is it good for them?

Specifically, we think about the non-traditional students who have children. We think about the non-traditional "commuter" student-parents who do not live on campus. We think about the students who might be dependent on public transportation. We think about the parents out there in the Anchorage community who are thinking about going back to school, and are looking at how UAA can help make that happen. We think about all potential UAA students out there in the Anchorage community, in the entire state of Alaska, and wonder how they feel about UAA now that UAA has indicated how much they (under)value the youth.

It's difficult to understand how UAA Administration can say things like: "The tough decisions we have to make are driven by our value of looking into the future of the university and we want to invest in the future"; "we want to keep Alaskans here in Alaska"; "we don't want to damage the community's trust on UAA and UAA's reputation in the community"; "we care about our students and we want them to access our courses"; "we need to generate more tuition money and so we need to encourage more students to attend UAA"; "we value our non-traditional students and want to support them and their educational pursuits and successes"; and other things like these -- but at the same time decide that UAA cannot have a child-care facility on campus.

This child-care facility nurtures the future of UAA and the future of our state. This on-campus childcare facility has allowed non-traditional students -- who compose 60 percent of our student body -- to take classes at UAA, succeed at UAA, and serve UAA. That means Alaskans staying in Alaska and serving Alaska. Not only that, Tanaina is a practicum site, research site, class project site, and more general learning site that has been instrumental in the learning and degree completion of thousands of students over the years. Tanaina has also employed many UAA students over the years, students who take courses at UAA and who also need their jobs at Tanaina to be able to take courses at UAA. Tanaina has also served hundreds of Alaskan faculty and staff and their families -- like us -- who have benefitted immensely from having Tanaina on campus over the past 35 years.

So how can UAA administration say that they care about the future, the state, and all students, when what they are demonstrating is that they are unwilling to continue a 35-year mutually beneficial relationship with an entity that nurtures the future of UAA and the state, allows good Alaskans to stay and serve Alaska, as well as make higher education more accessible to more people?

The hasty decision to evict Tanaina just doesn't make sense.

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#SaveTanaina

So, as Alaskans who are from rural Alaska, as UAA alumni, as UAA professors, and most importantly as fathers of Tanaina children, we respectfully ask the UAA leadership to reconsider their decision about Tanaina. Specifically, we ask the UAA Administration to let Tanaina remain on campus -- if not in its current space, then somewhere else on campus -- but on campus -- and to continue the "mutually beneficial," successful, and sustainable 35-year relationship between Tanaina and UAA.

We also ask all UAA students, faculty, staff, alumni -- and the entire Anchorage and Alaska community -- to support us in our endeavor to save Tanaina.

Share your own childcare stories from Tanaina, and express your support for Tanaina by contacting the UAA Chancellor's Office, the University of Alaska Board of Regents, your state representatives, and the Governor's Office. If you are privileged enough to have some power and influence, please consider using your resources to help Tanaina.

Finally, we strongly encourage everyone to consider joining us for a #SaveTanaina walk with the kids on the main campus next Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. We'll be starting at the UAA Student Union and taking our message of hope, "Let's Stay Together," across our sprawling campus down to the UAA Chancellor's Office.

E. J. R. David and Don Rearden are both associate professors at UAA, each with kids attending Tanaina. They have had many students, friends, family, and colleagues over the years who benefitted immensely by having Tanaina on the UAA campus. Both E.J. and Don say they like to write really long op-eds about social justice issues, and that this one is especially long because the issue is especially close to their hearts.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

Don Rearden

Don Rearden, author of the novel "The Raven's Gift," lives and writes in Anchorage, but often pretends he's still back somewhere on the tundra outside of Bethel.

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