Alaska editorial: University Alaska of Anchorage isn't treated equally by system

Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2007

This editorial appeared in The Voice of the Times:

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The statewide university system past its prime? The university of Alaska Anchorage has twice the student enrollment of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Yet it receives $30 million a year less in financing from the state's general fund. Enrollment here is growing. Enrollment in Fairbanks is at best stagnant - and actually is declining, based on figures for 2006. Despite its growth and vigor, UAA is denied the opportunity to offer doctoral programs. It is reserved for UAF to grant the highest of academic degrees.

Why? You'll have to ask those who run the statewide university system, which - it hardly needs to be said - is located at UAF, and works hand-in-glove with those who run the Fairbanks campus.

It's fair to speculate that UAF is fearful that its position in the higher education pecking order will somehow be diminished if students at UAA can obtain doctorate degrees - even though if Ph.D.s were offered here, they would be in entirely different fields of study than those at Fairbanks. Considering this situation, you might ask what the statewide system does.

Well, it consumes a lot of dollars.

Last year, the headquarters of the statewide system received $19.6 million in general fund appropriations. That surely must include a lot of bureaucrat overhead, with all the attendant paper-shuffling and buck-passing that goes with any operation that grows top-heavy.

Academic leaders at UAA, we have reason to believe, grow frustrated and weary with trying to deal with the Fairbanks headquarters - where initiatives that are proposed here tend to get bogged down and passed over up there.

The recent resignation - let's call it the ouster - of Elaine Maimon as chancellor of UAA puts a spotlight on higher education as it functions in the university's two largest institutions. From all accounts - not from Chancellor Maimon, but from others close to the situation - she was forced out by University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton. His actions toward her, in internal meetings attended by many within the academic system, were described as rude and bullying. We have great respect for Hamilton and have been one of his cheerleaders since he assumed the presidency of the statewide system. But in this case, his reputation comes out tarnished.

Fairbanks domination over all things in the university system is nothing new. Protecting the Fairbanks campus has forever been the No. 1 priority of the Fairbanks legislative delegation, dating back to territorial days.

No one that we know of wants to reduce the great work that goes on at UAF. But the time has come for the Board of Regents, which controls the university system, to start taking a hard look at a $19.6 million price tag for what may be a bloated central office, and at the need to respond to growing academic needs at UAA.

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