Gov. Mike Dunleavy got Alaskans all shook up when he whipped out his veto pen and started slashing on the state budget. And he did himself and us no favors when he chose to let the budget cuts speak for themselves.
In some cases — notably the havoc caused at the University of Alaska — his vetoes really needed some careful explaining. It is difficult to guess whether he thought the positive aspects of the budget reductions would speak for themselves. If so, the assumption was wrong.
The $130 million Dunleavy lopped from the university’s budget represented 41 percent of its state funding. And there seems no easy way to make up the difference.
The plight of the University of Alaska hit home to me as one of my sons graduated from UAF and my granddaughter is headed to one of the university’s campuses this fall. The University of Alaska provides a unique public service and, I am convinced, the quality of the education it provides is important to us all.
One of the arguments for fully funding the university was mentioned in an article in the Anchorage Daily News on July 4. A guest column by UAF professors Joseph Little and Joshua Greenberg pointed out that the university provides an important means of keeping our bright young people in Alaska.
When young people leave Alaska for college, only about a third return to the state after they graduate. When they attend college within the state, almost 80 percent stay here to launch their careers, and decide later whether to stay or go. As a father and grandfather who would like to see his family decide to stay in Alaska, those numbers got my attention.
Young people can and should decide for themselves where they want to settle down. My wife and I grew up in Massachusetts and were both reporters at The Worcester Telegram, one of that state’s largest newspapers, when we met and got married. We put money down on a 200-year-old farmhouse (one with no central heat and no plumbing) and then it occurred to us that we would be tying ourselves down to Massachusetts but had never really been anyplace else.
We were both outdoor people and a friend suggested Alaska would be perfect for us, so we got our money back on the farmhouse, bought a houseboat on wheels and a vehicle to tow it, then we set out cross-country for the trip of a lifetime. We got to Alaska after a thousand-mile dusty ride up the then-unpaved Alaska Highway and have built our lives here. That decision to come here was one of the most important we ever made and I am convinced it was the right one for us.
Alaska’s young people should be free to make such decisions themselves. And such decisions do get made one way or the other. Our responsibility as adults is to make sure our young people get the educations they need to make good decisions, then cross our fingers and hope they make the right ones for them.
The role of the University of Alaska is to prepare our young people to make life decisions, to school them in the world’s many options and — as best it can — give them the ability to evaluate whatever lies before them.
Bare-boning the university’s budget is a high-risk strategy that can and should be avoided. We have the means to fund our university. What is sometimes lacking is the courage to put the money where it can do the most good.