Education advocates gather at capitol to show support for University of Alaska system

Supporters ask legislators to consider budget increase for university system

Students, faculty and other supporters of the University of Alaska system had to hold tightly to their signs during a rally Friday on the steps of the Alaska State Capitol.

 

About 80 people stood in the cold, whipping wind in a display of support for the UA system, expressing the importance of education and research that the universities provide.

A banner near the microphone proclaimed, “A great state needs a great university,” and the sentiment of the nine speakers was focused heavily on the in-state value of having a strong university system.

Forest Haven, a recent University of Alaska Southeast graduate and University of California, Irvine Ph.D. student, spoke at length about her own experience and about the benefits she’s seen from other graduates who have gone on to do valuable work within the state.

“To fund education is to invest in the minds of our fellow Alaskans so that we can continue to be a uniquely innovative place,” Haven said. “It is ultimately to invest in Alaska’s future.”

Multiple legislators were there, including Rep. Sam Kito, D-Juneau and Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks. Both of them spoke about their experiences of attending the University of Alaska Anchorage and University of Alaska Fairbanks, respectively.

Wool hit many of the same points Haven did, expressing that having strong universities in the state will positively affect research and industry in the state. He also brought up the fact that the state’s contribution to the UA system has dropped in recent years (16 percent since the 2014 fiscal year).

“The cuts that we’ve endured, this university, the number of people we’ve cut, the millions of dollars we’ve cut the last several years, is deplorable,” Wool said.

Multiple speakers brought up the numbers 3-4-1 as they spoke Friday. In November, the UA Board of Regents proposed a $341.3 million operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year, an increase from $317 million in the current fiscal year.

John Pugh, former chancellor of UAS, quoted famous supporters of education such as Thomas Jefferson and journalist Tom Brokaw, but ended his talk with his own words.

“I would just say today, let’s stand up for public education, let’s stand up for the University of Alaska, let’s support the regents’ general fund budget,” Pugh said.

Megan Buzby, a professor of mathematics at UAS, said organization for Friday’s event began this past November. She headed up the process, looking for a way both to honor the university’s history and to make it clear to the state’s lawmakers that these institutions serve an important purpose.

“I think that the main goal is just to give a positive drive for the university,” Buzby said. “I think there are hard decisions that have to be made and we wanted them to remember why we’re here. We’re a big difference for the state and we need to keep that up.”

The crowd broke up quickly after the event, looking to get out of the cold and the wind. Many of them, including Buzby, also had to get back to class.


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or alex.mccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.


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