Doom befalls the University of Alaska

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.


  1. numerobis says

    I’m assuming this is going to crater the number of Alaska natives going to university. It’s already hard going to university in-state, now they’d also need to go thousands of miles to a foreign land.

  2. says

    Enrollments are about to plummet, which is going to increase the financial hardship

    Which will then be used to argue for slashing the remaining 60%.

  3. jrkrideau says

    @1 numerobis
    now they’d also need to go thousands of miles to a foreign land.

    Well not necessarily thousands of miles. I am not sure where the Univ of Alaska is but British Columbia is a neigbour and in some cases we might be talking a few hundred kilometres. A foreign land, although culturally probably quite similar.

    The tuition costs would be horrible. One of the reasons Canadian educational institutions love foreign students. Money!

    Still balancing travel costs versus tuition costs something like UBC or even Athabasca University in Alberta might be a cost-effective alternative. Maybe University of Victoria? How much does a ferry ride up the coast cost?

  4. Larry says

    Well, fortunately for those losing their jobs or being unable to enroll in the school, there is always work available in the Alaska reality TV biz. Fishing on a crab boat, mining for gold in the ocean, trapping critters way up north, shooting caribou, living off the grid, etc.. Hell, come up with your own idea. The cable networks will probably buy it.

  5. jrkrideau says

    The governor has decreed a 40% cut in their budget

    Presumably this is leading to parties in China, India and other countries. As the US deskills it clearly helps their economies and their research standings.

    Maybe we in Canada can pick up some top class academics? And, unfortunately, I am not being sarcastic. There could be a few deans and department heads already making a few discrete phone calls.

  6. says

    Where will the rich run to once they’ve despoiled the whole world and there are nothing but lawless, broken ex-countries from pole to pole? Who will grow their food? Who will staff their bunkers? Where will all the stupid luxury goods that are their only pleasure in life come from? I cannot seriously believe these assholes could abide living packed cheek-by-jowl in a space hab like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk imagine, with hardly any possessions (every gram of mass costs, and keeps costing), food that tastes like nothing, air that smells like stale B.O., endless menial scut work (cleaning mold from ventilation shafts and operating the corpse recycling tanks, what a life!), that can’t be entrusted to slaves (because they’d sabotage the hab), and there is no room for slaves in a hab anyway. Nor would they have the discipline to maintain it and survive, nor would they have the time or resources (or willingness to die horrible, horrible deaths so others might get a chance at making it) for the many, many failed attempts that would come before any successful space habitat.

    Who needs university anyway? We’ll just, uh, upload our intellectuals into computers or something, no need to make any more! In the end there will be nothing for the rich to eat but their own weapons. Anything in the world capable of sustaining and reproducing life, society, technology, or culture is being systematically annihilated, and the parts of the world whose people live outside of this system will soon be rendered uninhabitable by climate change.

    And there will be nothing left to take, nobody left to help the few survivors, and nowhere left to go, on a world almost as dead as it was in the early Triassic. What a way to go.

  7. unclefrogy says

    I may be wrong in this but it looks like without the implacable enemy of the USSR the conservatives really are trying to self-destruct. They are completely off the rails with their only focus on money in the short term and overt racism hate and phony religious cultural BS worshiping the “market”
    They seem to think the capitalist west won so cold war and we are now the big deal and anything that does not directly foster them getting more money is wrong regardless if it actually does. at the height of the cold war and in the middle of the space race that kind of cut would have been unthinkable. I had a friend say to me that we did not need to study the sciences because we could just higher scientists from overseas if we need them. I pointed out to him that we needed enough scientific understanding to know when we needed to higher a scientist. more broadly that’s in the short term maybe how it works but in the long term the educated will mostly remain in their home countries and improve them and there by shifting the leadership and its economic power to some other place like China who seems ever closer to achieving that goal. that is partly how the US became a leader in the world in the first place, that was not always the case, it was europe, france, england and germany that had that position. The conservatives belief in their superiority because of god and history and american exceptionalism without that implacable enemy to scare the crap out of them is taking us all down the drain.
    uncle frogy

  8. microraptor says

    tankermottind @6: Keep in mind that the majority of the rich people doing this sort of thing are old enough that they personally won’t be likely to live long enough to watch the Earth reach that condition. And even if they do, it means that they got to have all the fun and denied it to everyone else, so they win.

  9. raven says

    You’d have them send applications off to universities that are more likely to exist in four years, when they’d hope to graduate.

    This is going to be really expensive.
    .1. Those universities are going to be out of state.
    They are going to be paying out of state tuition (for state schools), which is higher than in state.
    Private colleges are also usually expensive.
    .2. It’s not like they can just drive to the next state over.
    Getting to the next state from Alaska is always expensive.
    You probably aren’t going to go home very often.

    The state of Alaska might save a few bucks but it is going to cost the families with kids in Alaska a whole lot of money to go to college.

  10. raven says

    Needless to say, you can wreck a university or research organization quite rapidly.
    It’s easy to do.
    A tried and true method is to cut the funding.
    Money is basically the life blood of these institutions.
    A year or two and they are deep sixed.

    That is the good news.
    The bad news is that it is very difficult to revive them, build them up, resurrect them, recreate them.
    That takes years, a huge amount of effort, and a whole lot of money.

    I’ve seen this movie before.
    One place never recovered from a budget crisis.
    Another one sort of did but not to their old level. It took most of a decade and some talented leaders.

    After they destroy the University of Alaska, they aren’t going to be able to go back very easily.

  11. Sean Boyd says

    The best case scenario is that the UA system becomes little more than a community college system, where students get nothing more than a smattering of courses in different disciplines and the focus shifts to job training (as opposed to education). Those with tenure, or seeking tenure, find employment elsewhere, and any replacements are adjuncts, paid far less than those they replace, on quarterly deals that leave them in constant doubt of their future employment, leaving them in bad position to try to assert their rights to a decent wage. In-person lectures become increasingly replaced with self-study using MOOCs. That seems to be the type of college that conservatives like…teach the rabble a trade, make them pass a few multiple-choice tests, but dog forbid that they learn to think and question.

    It feels sick to describe that as the best case, but I don’t see a realistic way out of this for Alaskans.

  12. tbp1 says

    #11: “…I don’t see a realistic way out of this for Alaskans.”

    For starters, they could stop voting Republican. This is extreme, even for a Republican, but it’s not exactly out of character.

  13. numerobis says

    jrkrideau: the South is culturally quite different than the North. Already, flying down to a giant metropolis like Fairbanks is going to be a shock. Now you want to go to an even bigger city like Victoria with huge trees and never any snow and most everyone is completely repulsed by your comfort food?

    On the other hand, housing costs in Vancouver would feel just like home.

  14. jrkrideau says

    @ 13 numerobis
    Well, I did think that UVic was stretching it a bit. I think UBC has a couple of satellite campuses (Kelowna is one?) that might make a good alternative and is a lot closer than the University of Texas or whatever.

    Just may not be cheaper but the cultural shock would likely be greater in Texas.

    What do we have in the Yukon that might help? I do not know the territory at all.

    As for cultural shock, it often cannot be avoided. My local anglophone CEGEP in Hull, QC used to get an annual enrollment of Cree from Northern Québec. Most everyone seemed to adjust but there was a critical mass of people from the North to provide support and companionship and I imagine the CEGEP staff were used to any serious issues.

  15. Sean Boyd says

    tbp1 @12,

    At this stage of the GOP life cycle, I’d call that unrealistic, although I understand your point.

  16. says

    “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.”
    No, no, no.
    Alaskans are getting dividend checks, like they have for several decades, because Alaska partially shares the economic value of its natural resources with all citizens. The evisceration of Alaskan education and Alaskan health and human services is occurring because Alaska, unlike nearly every other state, has neither an income tax nor a sales tax. Alaska also gives large tax credits to oil companies. The dividend reduces poverty in Alaska by 20%.
    By linking the gutting of education and health services to the dividend, rather than the lack of taxation or the oil credits, the Republican governor is trying to blame and reduce support for a popular and successful market socialist policy that should be replicated throughout the world. Progressives should not fall for it.

  17. says

    Precisely. There is a concerted effort to replace the concept of higher education with what they like to call “workforce development”; technical training of limited scope. I see it every day at my college. The corporate takeover of academia proceeds apace. Remember, gotta keep them machines running and the proles busy.

    “Corporate Needs Cogs”

  18. numerobis says

    jrkrideau: exactly, I’d expect Fairbanks to have some student clubs to help various Alaska Native groups integrate, whereas more southerly universities not so much.

    Inuit I knew in Iqaluit found it very hard to adjust to going to university. It’s not generally something their family did, plus the cultural change, plus the cost (thousands of dollars to fly home), plus school sucked so they started way behind their class, etc. Grants were easily available but didn’t cover nearly the full cost. Plus, you could stay home and get a dead-end job in the government to make decent money instead.

  19. says

    But the amazing thing is that they still have heirs, and are themselves the product of a system, perfected over thousands of years, for cultivating and protecting heirs. They have forgotten Job One of any ruling class: make sure your kids live to take over the family business. They can’t even function as organisms anymore!

  20. microraptor says

    tankermottind @19: But they can console themselves by thinking of about how much fun their heirs will have, sitting on the veranda of their luxury survival bunker, eating the finest Spam and sipping aged Gatorade while shooting the degenerates who are trying to breach the wall in order to take their stuff.