More than 100 members of the Fairbanks community gathered Thursday afternoon at Veteran’s Memorial Park to voice their support for the University of Alaska and urge the Legislature and Gov. Mike Dunleavy to maintain funding for the university system.
Upon the release of his amended operating budget in February, Dunleavy introduced a proposed slash of state funding to the university to the tune of $134 million, or about 41% of current state funding. This would drop state funding for the UA to $193 million and possibly decimate the system, UA President Jim Johnsen said.
Supporters of the university criticized the proposed cuts, identifying areas that they thought contributed most to the Fairbanks community and to the state.
Carolyn Gray, a retired high school and middle school teacher, has been in Fairbanks for 48 years and said the university is why she stayed.
“The university has everything, and it’s a wonderful way to get to know everybody,” Gray said.
“We need all the educational resources we can get in the state from (kindergarten) all the way up through the university and beyond. I hope they realize that it is an economic engine for the state, so they’ve just got to support it.”
Ron Inouye, who also attended the rally, worked for UAF at the Rasmuson Library, but his involvement with the university began in Kechikan teaching at the community college.
“If there were no university I don’t think a lot of us would choose to be here. I think it provides a lot of diversity for the community that wouldn’t otherwise be here,” Inouye said.
“I think we have to invest in ourselves. If these institutions weren’t here, more people would be leaving.”
Mike Musick, a member of the crowd sporting a light blue UAF T-shirt, said he received two degrees from the university. His three children also graduated from UAF. Musick emphasized the positive way the university contributes the Fairbanks community.
“Maybe my grandchildren will have a chance to go to a world-class university here, as well,” Musick said. “It’s a huge economic engine for the entire state, not to mention the money that is taken in just multiplies, and we all benefit from that.”
A series of speakers from area businesses, unions and organizations spoked to a sea of Fairbanksans, old and young, holding “Save our University” signs and sporting orange hard hats in honor of the technical and vocational education UAF offers.
The University of Alaska has sustained more than $190 million in cumulative budget cuts during the past five years due to reductions in state funding.
Last year was the first in as many years that the Legislature actually increased funding by $10 million, setting current funding levels at $327 million.
In a conference committee substitute for the state’s fiscal 2020 operating budget, members of the Senate and House have agreed to set funding levels for the university at $322 million, $5 million less than current funding levels.
Johnsen has spoken in favor of the comparatively modest cut but has voiced concerns that the fight may be far from over.
As provided in the Alaska Constitution, Dunleavy has line-item veto power and could reject the Legislature’s proposed funding for the university in favor of his own.
It would take a collective vote of 45 of the 60 legislators to override such a veto.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter:@FDNMPolitics.