The University of Alaska Board of Regents couldn't have been more clear Nov. 30 - its top priority for construction funding in the coming year is the new life sciences building at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
The regents were lobbied hard for a new sports arena at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Nevertheless, the regents properly upheld the core academic mission of the state's university when they voted to place just one project - the life sciences building - on their construction request to the Alaska Legislature.
The university has a unique opportunity to continue to build on a successful research and teaching program in biological sciences. It has done remarkably well with its old facilities, but it can't be expected to continue to attract top-notch faculty and funding with the laboratories it has. A modern facility is necessary.
The regents' unanimous decision to make no mention of the university's many other needs speaks to the importance of this new facility. A new sports arena would be much appreciated and well-used by Anchorage students and fans, no doubt, but this is a critical moment for the university's biological sciences program.
That's the message that the regents' budget plan should convey to the state officials who ultimately control the purse strings.
The governor will reveal his proposed 2010 budget in a few weeks and the Legislature will begin to work on it in late January. They should heed well the regents' leadership.
The state doesn't have enough money to fund everything that might be desirable for our institutions of higher learning. At this time, at this moment in the university's development, the focus must remain on learning.