With a grim financial picture ahead, the University of Alaska Southeast, seen here on Monday, May 25, 2020, could be merged with one of the other two schools in the system. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

With a grim financial picture ahead, the University of Alaska Southeast, seen here on Monday, May 25, 2020, could be merged with one of the other two schools in the system. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Opinion: Save Alaska’s universities

  • Thursday, June 4, 2020 10:48pm
  • Opinion

The University of Alaska Board of Regents should preserve Alaska’s three universities. Reasons for doing so are many, but four seem most important.

First, a university campus is a regional economic and cultural engine. Its ability to attract and retain businesses and families are well known. Removing a university from any city would diminish its identity and cultural vitality and deal it a brutal economic blow. As Juneau is the smallest city with a university, the blow to Juneau, especially in this economic downturn, would be the most brutal and doubly so. Thankfully, shuttering any university should not and does not need to happen.

[City opposes UAS absorption]

Second, as “the present” is not static, plans made today must include tomorrow. A vaccine for the coronavirus may come as soon as November. However, a year will be needed before production and distribution can be well underway, and then another year before a careful return to normalcy begins. Within two or three years, though, demand for the full benefits of higher education will return. A few years is not too long to keep the universities intact so that they can recover.

Third, in the meantime, many students are still deciding where to attend college for the fall. During the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for higher education closer to home is an option that students and their families are considering. Talk of closing any campus at this time or letting accreditation lapse will discourage students in Alaska from attending college here. The Board should not trigger this effect. It should promote stability for all three universities no matter how lean it may have to be.

Fourth, if University of Alaska Southeast or any university campus is closed, to rebuild it will take about 25 years. In 1975, I came to Alaska to teach at the new Auke Lake Campus of two buildings and few classrooms. Over many years, UAS added classrooms, program faculty, a fine library and professional staff, student advising, financial aid with community links to scholarships, student housing, food service, medical services and supremely effective distance delivery. Accreditation standards require all of these services to be not just present but of high quality. Shutting down UAS or any university campus will destroy all that has been built over many decades.

True, the plant will remain but as a ghost town. To be functionally alive, a campus needs higher education enterprise that involves students, faculty, staff, and a community in a hundred ways. UAS faculty and staff know their institution, their students, and have the knowledge and skill to deliver instruction and services that meet the high and exacting standards of national accreditation. They built courses that meet regional needs and accreditation standards. A campus plant cannot be brought back to accredited life in less than a generation because that life would need to be regrown to maturity all over again.

The present is never permanent. The only constant is change. Alaska’s university regents should plan for tomorrow through survival today. “Retrenchment” in education is synonymous with sacrifice, but shuttering an accredited higher learning is synonymous with “annihilation.” Demand for the full benefits of higher education will return. It’s inevitable because Alaskans want self-development, careers, and upward mobility in a competitive, 21st century society. For this return, every region of Alaska deserves equal treatment of its higher education centers. Each university has strengths that merit support and preservation. Alaskans are depending on its Regents to preserve each of the regional universities, however lean that support may be, so that they survive today in shape to recover and prosper tomorrow.

• Art Petersen is a former faculty member of University of Alaska Southeast and a 45-year resident of Juneau.

More in Opinion

Opinion: Rural broadband is essential infrastructure

Broadband funding is available. The rest is up to Alaskans.

Nurse Sherra Pritchard gives Madyson Knudsen a bandage at the Kenai Public Health Center after the 10-year-old received her first COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska Voices: A mom’s and pediatrician’s perspective on COVID-19 vaccines for children

I want to see children and their parents who have yet to get vaccinated roll up their sleeves.

Larry Persily (Peninsula Clarion file)
Opinion: State defends its right to cut nonexistent taxes

This from a state that has no property tax on homes or businesses, only on the oil industry.

Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Opinion: The foolish men claiming self-defense

It’s not just misguided teenagers carrying guns who find themselves in trouble with the law.

Dr. Jay Butler, former chief medical officer for the State of Alaska, is seen in this undated photo. (Courtesy photo)
Alaska Voices: Feeling grateful this Thanksgiving for the COVID vaccines

The COVID vaccines remain our strongest tool in combating the pandemic and helping us return to our lives and the things we love and cherish.

A resident casts their vote in the regular municipal election Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020 at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
Voices of the Peninsula: All votes matter

In the beginning, only property-holding white men could vote.

Cristen San Roman. (Photo provided)
Point of View: Is management of Cook Inlet catered to special interest groups?

If these fish are so at risk, why is BOEM able to move forward with lease sale 258?

Homer Foundation
Point of View: Grateful for the hidden ‘good’

Gratitude: Noun The state of being grateful; thankfulness. The state or quality… Continue reading

Homer High School Principal Douglas Waclawski. (Photo provided)
Point of View: What is Homer High School about?

What I consider Homer High’s strength is that we are a place for learning.

UAA Chancellor Sean Parnell. (courtesy photo)
Alaska Voices: Invent your future at UAA

At UAA we’re providing the tools to help students of all ages and skills chart a new course forward.

A registered nurse prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at the pop-up clinic on the Spit on May 27. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Alaska Voices: Vaccination is the still best protection from COVID-19

The Alaska State Medical Association encourages you to protect yourselves and your community from preventable illness by getting recommended vaccines.

(Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
The sad diminishment of Rep. Don Young

Young seems afraid to demand his party leader defend the dignity of the institution he loves.