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Letters to the Editor

Letter: The value of higher education

  • Author: Jerome B. Komisar
    | Opinion
  • Updated: July 17
  • Published July 17

Alaska’s Legislature recognized the value of education and the cost of being untaught when they rejected the enormous cuts to the University of Alaska advanced in Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s initial budget proposal. Unfortunately, the governor returned to his drastic 40% cut in state support to the university by use of a line-item veto. So once again, it will be up to the Legislature to maintain a strong public university for the citizens and industry of the state. Effective colleges and universities are not built overnight. It takes decades of investments to establish the culture of learning and exploration that secures a modern economy and society. Investments in faculty and staff, in classrooms, laboratories and libraries, in students and alumni. The University of Alaska and the citizens of the state have benefited from more than a century of such investments. As the state’s legislators know, through its main campuses in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau, the university serves the entire state.

Instruction is a vital part of the university’s mission, but it is not the only part. The university’s research in oceanography, in fisheries, in arctic biology, in seismology and volcanology are not only of value to Alaska, but also to countries around the world, particularly fellow Arctic nations and those around the Pacific rim. Most of the research is supported by federal funds, an income stream that stimulates economic activity and brings distant scholars and visitors to Alaska. Cutbacks in state support to the university, and the loss of students and faculty cutbacks would entail, would severely threaten federal support and have a noticeable negative effect on the level of economic activity in the state. What takes decades to build can be rapidly shattered. Where building takes time, resources and devotion, destruction is quick and ugly and seemingly cheap. But only seemingly. In a short amount of time. the weakening of the university would become apparent across the state. Daughters and sons will be driven away, and most will not return. Businesses, hospitals and schools will find it more and more difficult to locate qualified employees. And the knowledge Alaskans will need to maintain the industries of the state and avoid the worst outcomes of a warming climate will remain more elusive.

Alaska is not a poor state. It is the opposite. In other states, government is supported by the taxes of the governed. In Alaska, the state sends its residents a yearly check generated by the Permanent Fund, a sovereign wealth fund worth more than $60 billion. Alaska is not a poor state, but it can be made poor by shrinking support for those institutions that make modern states and countries rich. The Legislature needs to protect the richness and vitality of the state by restoring the funds cut by the governor.

— Jerome B. Komisar

Former University of Alaska president

Silver Spring, Maryland

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