The governor has decreed a 40% cut in their budget, a devastating goal in itself. The university is trying to cope with this disaster by consolidating campuses and firing lots and lots of people. That isn’t going to save them. Look at what’s happening right now.
“It’s awful,” says Milligan-Myhre. “I had to turn away a student planning on starting in the fall because I just don’t know what the department or his degree would look like in a year or two.” She’s also encouraging her current students to graduate as soon as possible.
Imagine that you’re an Alaskan parent, planning to send a child off to college. Would you suggest the University of Alaska? No way. You’d have them send applications off to universities that are more likely to exist in four years, when they’d hope to graduate.
Imagine you’re a current student. You’d be planning to graduate as soon as possible, or to transfer elsewhere. Get out while you can, because the uncertainty is intolerable.
Enrollments are about to plummet, which is going to increase the financial hardship. 40% cuts is a torpedo below the waterline.
It’s not just teaching that is harmed, it’s the research side as well.
The budget cuts have already altered some researchers’ plans. Milligan-Myhre, who studies a native Alaskan fish called the three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus), has dropped out of a “once in a lifetime” ecological experiment. Dozens of researchers from across the globe plan to combine various stickleback populations in ten lakes that have previously been treated to kill all invasive fish. The idea is to track how differences in the lakes’ ecosystems influence a host of traits in the fish — from the composition of their gut microbiomes to characteristics of their brain tissue — over decades, revealing evolution in action.
Milligan-Myhre is using the time she would have spent on the experiment to hunt for work. “I just don’t have time to devote to this project because I’ve got to be writing my butt off the next few months,” she says. “I need to get as many papers out as I can to prep my CV for job applications, because I have no job security. [The university] can fire me with 60 days’ notice.”
That’s tough to explain to constituents because they’re just seeing an obscure little fish — it doesn’t even have commercial value — but sticklebacks are an important model system for studying evolution and development, because they are so common and diverse. Alaska is killing basic research for an undefined and self-destructive end.
The only solution is to recall the governor and about half the legislature. That’s almost impossible. The governor is making these cuts while promising to mail out large dividend checks to the general Alaskan population, so he’s basically buying support for the evisceration of Alaskan education and Alaskan health and human services.
Once again, Republicans are accusing Democrats of what they routinely do, draining the treasury to buy votes.