When does a cut become a deathblow?

Do you remember Monty Python’s “Dead Parrot” sketch? Well, I haven’t been able to get it off my mind since Feb. 13. In that sketch, a pet-shop owner tries to convince an unhappy customer that the dead, stuffed, nailed-to-its-perch parrot the customer is trying to return, is not actually dead. John Cleese, as the shop owner, thinks that he can weasel out of the fact that he sold a dead parrot by duping Michael Palin, the customer, with his crafty use of words as diversions:

“Customer: Look, mate, I know a dead parrot when I see one, and I’m looking at one right now."

"Shop owner: No, no, he’s not dead, he’s … he’s resting! Remarkable bird, the Norwegian Blue, isn’t it, ay? Beautiful plumage!”

On Feb. 13, Gov. Mike Dunleavy released his budget, with a cut of 41 percent to state funding for the University of Alaska system. Are we in a Monty Python sketch? Are we being sold a dead Norwegian Blue? I hope Alaskans are not fooled: A 41 percent slashing will result in a university that looks like a dead parrot. Indeed, the leftover faculty and administration might not look dead, stuffed and nailed to their perches. But you should have no doubts that half-and-a-bit of a university (especially one that is already missing several vital organs due to relentless previous slashings – think of the last four years) can be considered alive enough to educate the next generation of leaders and innovators that our state (like any other) needs.

A cut is not just a cut if it is aimed to kill you. Facts, as Samuel Adams well said, are “stubborn things,” and they, like dead parrots, cannot care less about our political leanings. Regardless of our politics, and even if we think only in terms of economic prosperity, we should all know that a well-educated workforce directly translates into a wealthier state. A murder attempt on our education is, plain and simple, a murder attempt on the future opportunities and earnings of each and every Alaskan.

Norwegian Blue parrots do not exist, nor do universities that lack vital organs. When we accept a fat Permanent Fund dividend and no taxes, we should have the courage to also accept the facts of what we’re trading. Gov. Dunleavy should at least have the courage to tell it as it is. This is not a cut. This is a shot to the head, this is the slashing of about half of one’s vital organs, this is a murder attempt on Alaska’s education system. Our governor should also have the courage to see what Alaskans say when he calls things as they are. Then, I hope, all of us — regardless of our politics — will be just as outraged at this duping attempt, as the customer in the “Dead Parrot” sketch was.

Eduardo Wilner is the Philosophy Program Coordinator in the University of Alaska Fairbanks Department of Psychology and Philosophy.

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Eduardo Wilner

Eduardo Wilner is chairman of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.