My Turn: Huge loss for UAS students

Posted: Friday, April 26, 2002

Thanks to the depth of expertise and contributions given by Jamie Bursell, instructor of the Human Anatomy and Physiology course at UAS, her course has been rendered a huge success. However, UAS has decided to cut instructor Jamie Bursell from the program. At the end of this semester, Jamie will no longer be invited to teach the course she made so popular among students and the community.

While her hired replacement can undoubtedly boast more papered credentials, it is not a Ph.D. that is to be credited for the success Jamie has in her A&P class. It is her unique level of experience - and indeed her passion - along with her particular strengths of resourcefulness, devotion, and teaching skills that make the course a high-caliber learning experience as well as a hands-on opportunity that her students crave. Unbridled enthusiasm like Jamie's cannot help but be contagious. It is obvious to her students that she loves her job.

Jamie's UAS teaching career began in the summer of 1999 when the university contacted her in the hope that she could teach the A&P class. With Jamie, they struck gold. Her remarkable rsum, which includes a long history of teaching at university medical school programs, was further evidence that she was the perfect instructor for the position. Jamie not only agreed to teach for UAS, but also threw herself into the task, and in a short time had the course in full swing. That first summer she pulled off a miracle by condensing the year-long course into an intense 10-week session.

Further, while some instructors may be satisfied with using fetal pigs in the A&P lessons, Jamie knew a much greater learning experience occurs when students are allowed to work with human cadavers. In preparation for the fall 1999 semester, Jamie drew upon her resources and affiliations with colleagues in the WAMI (Washington, Alaska, Montana, Idaho) medical education program to acquire a cadaver for the class. This was a first for UAS. The course now has two cadavers and is one of the most popular at UAS - more than 50 students enrolled in her class last fall.

So now, after all the energy she has put into developing and presenting the A&P course, Jamie has been stiffed. UAS has dropped the ax on her teaching career here in favor of any candidate who has higher academic credentials. The manner in which UAS went about notifying her is appalling. She was neither told that she was being replaced, nor that her job was being advertised, until the hiring was already in progress. Jamie learned about the contrivance only by happenstance, not directly from UAS itself - a student informed her that UAS had hired someone for her teaching position! Perhaps most disturbing is the amount of disrespect shown to her by UAS.

As an adjunct faculty, money is not Jamie's driving force for teaching. The pay is minimal and hardly worth the time spent preparing for and teaching the class. Two evenings a week away from her husband and children are hardly motivational factors for Jamie to teach either. What inspires her to teach A&P is her love for the subject and her desire to teach others what she knows about the human body.

Students of her past and present classes will agree that Jamie Bursell is by far one of the best instructors teaching at UAS. It is obvious that whoever came up with the idea to replace her did not get any input from her students. UAS has no idea what a rare treasure it is losing. If UAS claims to be a teaching school, why is it replacing one of its best?

It's not too late for UAS to do the right thing. The newly hired faculty will have his hands full with other biology courses, so why not let Jamie continue teaching her course? Alaska prides itself in its valuable resources, but we have under-appreciated one that is right here at home. If I were the university and had to make the decision on whether to send Jamie Bursell packing, my answer would be clear. Over my dead body!

Kim Porter, a senior at UAS, is enrolled in the Human Anatomy and Physiology course.

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