Everyone with a vested interest in the Alaska budget listened on June 28 when Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced his line-item veto decisions. Those in public broadcasting, those serving as VPSOs, and senior citizens relying on Medicaid were dismayed at the governor’s lack of support for these programs. However, the line-item veto of the University of Alaska budget by $130 million devastated all of us here at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. It resonated with all of the faculty, staff, students and community supporters in the UA system as a definitive sign that this administration does not value them.
I saw fellow student employees holding back tears when the furlough notices were announced. A friend got choked up when telling me that they probably won’t be coming back next year. Parents and prospective students were calling in to see what the university is going to do and were given answers of uncertainty. Even as I write this, as a student veteran in my senior year of college, I am unsure if my own degree program, professors or classmates will still be there come fall semester — or if I will.
Over the past several years the UA system has received cuts in our funding and has been told to diversify our revenue sources. So we work harder, striving for ambitious goals and receiving recognition in areas such as Arctic studies, engineering and research. Our students have gone throughout the country and the world to present their talents, abilities and research to other institutions and thus giving the state of Alaska a better reputation in the area of higher education. Even with all these accomplishments, this year’s budget is giving us another cut, the largest that the university system has received in its over 100-year history, and we are being told to diversify our revenue sources.
The students of the UA system are no longer going to roll over and see our programs and departments cut for the sake of a large PFD check.
It is during times like these that we must remain strong and resilient in our resolve. As president of the Associated Students of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, it falls on me and the work of other student leaders across the UA system and through its supporters to push back and organize in an effort to show that we are united in our stand against these cuts. We must show the governor and our legislators in Juneau that we are not just a number on a budget ledger, that we are the future of Alaska. Contrary to the governor and his supporters, we can be all things to all people, and we do our best to serve and support the state of Alaska with our studies, internships and research. The Alaska Constitution was not just written at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, it was done so in the Student Union building with the reasoning being that the elected delegates did not want the undue influence of lobbyists and that they would benefit from the academic environment to develop the founding principles of the state of Alaska.
We must again show our strength in ensuring that our university system does not receive this crippling cut. I am writing this as a call to action for our supporters throughout the state of Alaska. Support the students in our effort to convince the representatives and senators that are supporting this cut that they are on the wrong side of this issue and that they must do what is best for the state of Alaska and override the governor’s veto.
Bernard Keoki Aoto Jr. is president of the Associated Students of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.