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Our University of Alaska

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Feb. 23

To the editor: People here and elsewhere have come to count on major contributions to knowledge by our university. From this largest but least populous state (1.3 people per square mile, compared with the U.S. national average of 87 persons per square mile) a wide range of informed expertise taps into generations of experience to explain things that perplex many non-Alaskans.

To further illustrate the scale of this challenge, the length of Alaska’s marine coastline constitutes more than 52 percent of the national total, and ours is the only state to front on three distinct oceanic systems (Pacific Ocean, Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean).

Hard-won expertise often draws together colleagues who can build careers on cooperative efforts by University of Alaska oceanographers, geophysicists and biologists working alongside counterparts at federal agencies such as NOAA, U.S. Geological Survey, and the National Weather Service and at state agencies such as the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Fish and Game.

Other UA advocates, including University President Jim Johnsen, Dermot and Terrence Cole, and Rich Seifert have recently explored the fiscally alarming implications of a further 41 percent budget cut proposed by short-term hirelings.

What arguments can we raise to stem today’s myopic rush to cut public spending and gut state institutions?

Reflecting on my half-century association with the university, more than a dozen unique and rewarding phases of the experience have highlighted the years since I enrolled here as a graduate student in 1967. Among them:

Teaching Alaska’s highly motivated undergraduate and graduate students; finding that my degree work at UA prepared me to be involved in challenging resource decisions on Alaska’s North Slope and elsewhere; getting an early start with multi-institution investigations of fossils of Alaska’s Cretaceous Arctic dinosaurs; absorbing environmental wisdom from indigenous peoples of Alaska; and savoring (with other retirees and “seasoned adults”) all the experiences and extraordinary people our university community has privileged us to know.

Will our descendants be so privileged?

Let us hope that legislators can act on positive visions of our university’s hard-won effectiveness.

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