Last August, Gov. Mike Dunleavy held a gun to the head of the university, in the form of a $130 million budget cut — 40% of state funding. The governor, sidestepping the Legislature, offered the Board of Regents a “deal” of a 3-year fiscal dismemberment instead — cutting “only” $70 million over three years. The regents accepted, and now the ill effects are becoming apparent. For example, the University of Alaska Anchorage proposes to cut the entire Department of Geography and Environmental Studies. This program prepares students to work as professionals for agencies, private firms, and nonprofits in the environmental planning field.
Alaska’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development estimated that 180 positions are available annually for graduates with this training. Conflicts over resource allocation and the balance between development and environmental protection have been critical issues for Alaska since territorial days and we tend to object when these issues are decided by “outsiders.” The remedy is for Alaska to train its own resource managers, GIS analysts and environmental scientists to do this work, which contributes greatly to our economic and social well-being. Eliminating UAA’s program, under the governor’s pressure, reduces opportunities to fill these jobs with Alaskans. The university and the Legislature should reject this senseless move.
— Philip Martin
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