Opinions

Even more things that don't make sense about UAA evicting Tanaina Center

In a Juneau hearing on Feb. 11, Alaska Senate Finance Committee Co-Chair Anna MacKinnon and University of Alaska President Pat Gamble had a brief exchange regarding the Tanaina Child Development Center's eviction by the University of Alaska Anchorage. The video's available online at 360 North, and the relevant portion begins about minute 193.

Senator MacKinnon: "... at the University of Alaska's (Anchorage) campus, there's been quite a buzz in the news and other media sources about the closure of the childcare facility and I'm wondering if you want to make any comment ... It's in the media and some people may want us to ask you about it."

President Pat Gamble: "… I, I'm preferring to let the chancellor deal with that entirely as a campus issue, uhm, the Board is well aware, as am I. But at this particular point in time I think, uh, the issues are quite clear. He's working with them through it. A number of meetings as well. The takeoff on that, I mean, old people and babies is not a winner when you have to go out in the public eye and talk about doing anything bad to them. So I don't envy him and the work that he has to do. But there's a logic back in there. The part that I think was missed was, they're trying to find a solution to bed them down someplace where they can do this work. But, you know, they're not accredited. We haven't been able to accredit them in that location all the way back to Fran Ulmer's days and, uh, to me that's not good. I mean, I've run child development centers before and not having them accredited is not good business. So, there's more to the issue, is all I'm saying."

Well, sure, there will always be more to the issue if people keep coming up with more nonsensical reasons for why UAA is evicting Tanaina. But, we think the real issue is quite clear: The UAA Administration does not value having a child development center on campus.

That is the real issue.

We have already examined why this is not a fiscal issue or an issue of space or getting a better off-campus location for Tanaina's own good. And despite what President Gamble said to the Senate Finance Committee, accreditation is not the real issue either.

This new talking point about accreditation is a smokescreen because, just like Tanaina at UAA, the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) also has an on-campus child development center -- the Bunnell House.

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But unlike Tanaina, UAF largely (if not completely) finances Bunnell House. This means that Bunnell House staff salaries, liability insurance, etc. are likely covered by UAF, by the UA system, by State funds. Unlike the huge financial backing that Bunnell House gets from UAF, the only thing Tanaina receives from UAA is space, utilities, and maintenance -- around $39,000 a year, a bargain for the service Tanaina has provided UAA for 35 years. In fact, the families served by Tanaina could increase their monthly payments around $50 a month to completely cover what UAA "donates" to Tanaina, to essentially pay UAA that $39,000 annual rent. Also, unlike Tanaina -- which serves 65 kids -- Bunnell House serves only 30 kids.

Just like Tanaina, Bunnell House is also properly licensed to provide child care. But one ironic similarity between Tanaina and Bunnell House is that they are both not accredited.

Unlike Tanaina, however, the Bunnell House is not being evicted from UAF. So why isn't UAF dumping its on-campus childcare center, too?

Simple. UAF clearly appreciates the value of having an on-campus child development center, so much so that they are asking the State of Alaska for $850,000 to expand Bunnell House so that it meets accreditation standards (page 8 of this pdf file). Unlike UAF, however, it looks like UAA doesn't see the value in having an on-campus child development center to help its student-parents. Instead of helping Tanaina, UAA has chosen to evict it.

So that's the real issue. And yes, "there's more to the issue" that UA and UAA leadership aren't talking about. Is hockey the big elephant in the room with Tanaina, or should we say "next door"? We don't know. But right now, it's quite clear that the eviction's not about the number of kids served. It's not about space for Tanaina to grow. It's not about saving money, and it's not about accreditation. It's also not about the betterment of students either, because evicting Tanaina makes higher education less accessible to students.

That last point makes it an issue of access to higher education. This also makes evicting Tanaina an issue of diversity, in addition to it being an early childhood education issue and a social justice issue. This is not just "a campus issue." This is an Alaska issue.

And so, no, President Gamble, there's no "logic back in there," nor is there logic anywhere in this eviction. Not one of the provided reasons -- reasons that continue to change almost daily -- for evicting Tanaina make any sense. It doesn't make sense for UAA to not help students with children.

So, again, we respectfully ask the UA Board of Regents and the UAA Administration to let Tanaina remain on campus -- if not in its current space, then somewhere else on campus -- and to continue the mutually beneficial, successful, and sustainable 35-year relationship between Tanaina and UAA. Yes, Tanaina needs to grow, but it needs to grow with -- and within -- UAA. It's "good business" for UAA to keep Tanaina because Tanaina gives UAA so much with very little cost (if any) to UAA.

And again, we ask all UAA students, faculty, staff, alumni -- and the entire Anchorage and Alaska community -- to express your support for Tanaina by contacting the UAA Chancellor's Office, the UA 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.

We will be present during the UA Board of Regents meeting at the Gorsuch Commons in the UAA campus this Thursday and Friday, hoping that UA leadership will hear our #UAAmazing stories. We hope that they will be moved to reverse this short-sighted and nonsensical decision to evict Tanaina.

E. J. R. David and Don Rearden are both associate professors at UAA. They say they both pay full price for their on-campus childcare and parking. They both have many students, friends, family, and colleagues over the years who benefitted immensely by having Tanaina on the UAA campus.

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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