Many Alaskans have rightly and eloquently expressed grave concern about the impact to Alaska’s education opportunities, workforce training, and economic development from the governor’s line-item veto of over $130 million of University of Alaska state support. What hasn’t received as much attention is that the devastating impact of these cuts goes far beyond the state’s borders.
A few years ago, UAF dubbed itself “America’s Arctic University.” This moniker really applies to the university as a whole, not just UAF, when it comes to the knowledge and capabilities developed through the university’s research programs. UA is the top-ranked university in the world for Arctic research, and the nation depends on it for essential knowledge and unique facilities and capabilities. This is not new — we tend to forget, for example, that some of UA’s prominent research and education centers such as the Geophysical Institute and the Institute of Arctic Biology were established by the federal government during the era of World War II to address the challenges of military operations in cold northern regions. The capabilities and infrastructure of these institutes have over the years expanded greatly, in large part through the impetus of national as well as state requirements for broader aspects of knowledge of the North as well as the growing technological challenges of national and homeland security.
The federal agency-funded research programs in the Geophysical Institute and the Institute of Arctic Biology these days address not just military concerns but climate change and its impacts, the health of people, animals and the environment, and a host other challenges to the people of the nation, indeed of the world. The research in those centers of excellence, which I cite merely as examples, is complemented by that across the rest of the campus in virtually all colleges and schools, as well as at UAA and UAS. From fisheries to Native languages to cold regions engineering to invasive species and disease to permafrost and sea ice, UA is a global leader in developing the knowledge (and the students and researchers) needed by the U.S. to address our national strategic objectives.
It’s important to stress that this research isn’t esoteric; it’s directed at real issues, and funded by federal agencies that need and demand results. UA has developed programs not just to develop this knowledge but to integrate it and help in its application in communities, in the state, and via the nation’s civil as well as security agencies through programs like the Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning, the Arctic Domain Awareness Center, the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, the Alaska Center for Energy and Power, and the Institute of Social and Economic Research, to mention just a few. To repeat, the U.S. needs UA.
While most of UA’s research is supported from the national level, it rests on the foundation of the investment the state has made for the education of its citizens and for the knowledge it needs for Alaska’s own development and safety. UA proudly claims at least a 6-to-1 return on the state’s investment through the intake of federal dollars, but what’s much more important here than the money is the knowledge that the nation needs. Given the draconian nature of the cuts that UA faces and the inevitable closure of facilities, consolidation, refocus on basic educational essentials, and departure of leading research faculty and the associated loss of students that care about national and homeland security and other issues of importance to the nation, it cannot be expected that UA will be able to continue to meet the demands of the United States.
The governor’s line-item veto not only debilitates Alaskans’ opportunities for education, workforce training, health, and economic development but also wounds our nation in ways that he either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care about. The United States will for many years suffer from the impact of his cuts. Even beyond just our own borders, we as a nation are only now beginning to fully comprehend the impact of Russian and Chinese dominance in the Arctic. Gov. Dunleavy has just done them a mighty favor.
Craig Dorman, a retired rear admiral in the U.S. Navy, is former vice president of research and academic affairs for the University of Alaska system.