We’re in that time of year when academics everywhere are waiting on budget news. Will we get that cost-of-living increase we were hoping for? Will our requests for new colleagues get funded? What will our supplies budget for next year look like? So we wait, knowing that the Republicans in the state legislature hate us and will be trying carve away as much as they can, not caring that we’ve already been pared to the bone.
Our Alaskan colleagues were in the midst of the same stress, when their Republican governor announced that he was using a line-item veto to kill 40% of the University of Alaska’s budget. That’s nothing but irresponsible butchery of the state university system.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Friday slashed $130 million in state support for the University of Alaska, a cut the UA president said could result in the elimination of academic programs, massive layoffs and tuition increases.
UA President Jim Johnsen said the university system will begin planning for the “devastating” and “unprecedented” reduction, while also advocating that the state Legislature overturn the governor’s line-item veto. State legislators have until July 12 to do so, but three-fourths of them would have to agree to throw out the governor’s cut.
“There’s no question this budget — if not overridden by the Legislature — would be devastating to the university and to our mission and to the state and to our economy now and for years to come,” Johnsen told the UA Board of Regents at an emergency meeting Friday.
We’re stretched thin already — I can’t imagine how we’d cope if told we had to slash 40% of our faculty. How would essential courses be taught? What would the value of a degree be if core disciplines were gutted? That’s the cost Alaskan colleges are being asked to pay. If this goes through, it’s going to take decades to repair the damage…if there’s a will to repair it at all.
It is short-sighted and stupid, too. Universities make major returns on the cost of investment. If nothing else, high-tech industries want a pool of educated workers, and they aren’t going to find them in Alaska.
Universities in Alaska certainly take on similar roles. According to a presentation from the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation’s Alaska Common Ground meeting:
- the University of Alaska system provided $714 million (directly) and $402 million (indirectly) to the statewide economy (year 2012 numbers)
- Alaska businesses rely on local talent from University of Alaska for their workforce needs as studies show that 68% of two-year graduates and 42% of four-year graduates remain in the state.
- University of Alaska-Anchorage alone generated $40.2 million in research dollars in fiscal year 2016
It is clear that a 41% cut places all of these things at risk. It also threatens university leadership in serving the energy, seafood, natural resources, health, transportation and education sectors of the region. Candidly, gutting higher education will not be an effective tool for recruiting bright new talent and industries to the state either. In fact, it probably belongs on “a top 5 list” of how not to attract new people to the state.
How could this happen? Easy. Elect a Republican governor who sees his role as taking punitive fiscal action against anything he doesn’t like. Like most Republicans, he despises higher education, so he takes a knife to it. This isn’t the only time he’s been a brutal autocrat: he also vetoed $335,000 from the budget of the Alaska Supreme Court. Why? Because they made a ruling on abortion that he didn’t like.
“The legislative and executive branch are opposed to state-funded elective abortions; the only branch of government that insists on state-funded elective abortions is the Supreme Court,” Dunleavy’s administration wrote in a budget document released Friday. “The annual cost of elective abortions is reflected by this reduction.”
Mike Dunleavy is a man who firmly believes in the punitive power of bad leadership.