My turn: Research an important draw for university

Posted: Wednesday, December 17, 2008

One of the University of Alaska Southeast's great strengths is its faculty. Not only is the university still small enough to have great student-teacher ratios across the board, but the teachers themselves consistently seem invested in working with their students to enrich the students' experiences and enhance their level of understanding.

Furthermore, there is a real emphasis on hands-on opportunities at UAS. The natural sciences offer numerous chances for students to go beyond the classroom in the field of their interest, which has several benefits for students: The opportunity to test the waters of their major and see if it's really for them, the opportunity to gain research experience and even be included in published material prior to graduation and get a leg up for post-graduation, the opportunity to meet people and make contacts in their field, and, most importantly, the opportunity to have a lot of fun doing field work in what is touted as a natural learning environment in the university's own promotional material.

However, these opportunities are not restricted to just the natural sciences. I'm aware of anthropological field work that students have participated in and traveled to present on, and of course the French class traditionally takes a trip abroad to test out their new language and cultural skills. It seems to me that in facilitating and providing these experiences, the faculty go above and beyond the minimum expectations for their positions, and I have always appreciated faculty members who did so.

Additionally, the low student-teacher ratios mean that research opportunities aren't restricted to the highest echelon of student achievers - that is to say, even students who don't get the top grades in their class aren't excluded from engaging with their field of interest.

I am horrified to hear via various grapevines that in fact UAS, or more specifically some of the current administration, are seeking to de-emphasize research in its faculty and would like to shift the university to an "education-only" undergraduate experience. How the great undergraduate experiences that UAS faculty current offer don't fall under the definition of "education," I have no idea. I truly can't imagine how the university will benefit from employing faculty who do not conduct research, or how the undergraduate student body will benefit from losing all the great opportunities they currently have.

If this is the direction UAS is headed, then we all need to buckle down and get ready for a community college - not an expanding university. I can't believe that anyone thinks UAS will meet its current goal of increasing enrollment by just 100 students if they actually decrease the number of advantages to going to school here. The current chancellor's greeting on the UAS computer system mentions purchasing a list of 2,500 students' names in western undergraduate exchange states to increase the chances of effectively advertising the biology and environmental science programs. Why on earth would anyone go on exchange to a school that didn't use the abundant natural resources that surround it, or that discouraged faculty from conducting research in them?

• Kirsa Hughes-Skandijs is a University of Alaska Southeast student in Juneau.

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