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Community Perspective

Run UA like an Iron Age university, not a Bronze Age

It’s no surprise that the University of Alaska Anchorage shot a cannonball across the University of Alaska Fairbanks bow. UAA’s business faculty undoubtedly ran a simple cost/benefit analysis.

If you cut UAF, you still have bonds to pay for a power plant and buildings, and you’re left with classrooms, laboratories and concert halls that there is no demand for in a small town, creating the nightmare of 50 buildings costing millions to demolish — just like the Polaris building in downtown Fairbanks. If you cut UAA, you have great convertible office space, apartments and gymnasiums only a few minutes from a major metropolitan downtown area and that you can rent out or sell for millions of dollars in profits to the UA system. Ooh, the perfect shopping mall location!

Also, UAF has room to actually conduct grant research for industrial development. Drone research, agricultural research, Poker Flat Research Range, Toolik Field Station and mining research are near students so that they can actually see and take part in that research. The UAA campus really has no room for research, nor the specialists needed to run it all. And UAF has online classes for Anchorage and other Alaska students to take.

The real nightmare then is facing the major cuts imposed on UA where the usual answer on how to cut a university is to just say, “Let’s have sciences in one location, arts in another and business in a third.” But truly since the Iron Age began, the idea of a university is to bring together the many and disparate disciplines to spark new ideas, technologies and business ventures for the benefit of society.

For example, do you really want to educate specialist business people in one location where they are separate from the sciences and do not see seminars, experiments or presentations that can inspire a business major to see possible new development ideas?

Or do you want science majors separate from the arts where the many artistic, philosophical and literary presentations can maybe inspire the scientist to bravely change a technological system to make it more helpful to humanity?

And then isn’t it good for arts students to see business in action, even if it’s only by meeting other students who take business classes but who inspire the arts student to see the importance of money?

People think that by specializing the university system you can solve all the money problems without making the real sacrifice of actually cutting the number of campuses, yet it was the original university system of a diversity of ideas in one location that created all of our great Western traditions of democracy, technology and culture. It creates parking problems, too.

Nevertheless, given the illogical situation we’re in where this year’s cuts will be just as draconian next year, where no serious economic analysis of oil taxes and personal income taxes is being done, where the Alaska Constitution (written just across from my office) oddly demands an insurmountable three-quarters of the legislators to override a line-item veto and where suddenly after 60 years of statehood, one governor decides that 182 such vetoes are in order where as in the past maybe only a few such vetoes would ever have been used, then I don’t believe in logic anymore.

Let’s just handle this the old-fashioned, Bronze Age barbarian way by sending in our respective champions to duke it out. That’s right, have the Nanook hockey team, basketball team, volleyball team and other sports teams play the Seawolves’ respective teams to determine who should be cut and who should carry on. Have every Alaskan bet half of their PFD on the outcome. Throw in 75% of the oil company tax credits and a lottery pick for a percentage of income tax and let’s all watch the outcome. We’ll rival the ancient Romans, Thunder Dome and the Gettysburg Battlefield all in one.

Have it be best two out of three games for each sport, and where the games will be played once in Fairbanks, once in Anchorage and the tie breaker in Juneau. The university with the most team series wins gets to keep their campus, but give extra weight to each sport series based on the fan base. Have the downhill ski team do Greco-Roman wrestling with the cross-country ski team, and they can duke it out WWE style for the entertainment of live Las Vegas hotel audiences. Let villages allow gambling for tourists and distant gamblers so that they can pay for more rural campuses. As our new athletics director said, “You have to have swagger!”

Well, let’s put it all on the line.

Doug Reynolds is a professor of petroleum and energy economics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. His email address is dbreynolds@alaska.edu.

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