Is the University Forgetting its Purpose?

daniel-piscoya-1BY DANIEL PISCOYA
Managing Editor, UAS Whalesong

UAS made it into the Juneau Empire on Jan. 11 for our new campus welcome sign. In an article titled “New UAS welcome sign gives nod to cultural significance of campus location,” Capitol City Weekly Reporter Clara Miller  elaborated on Vice Chancellor Joe Nelson and Professor Lance Twitchell’s push to include Tlingit at the entrance to UAS’s Juneau Campus.

While Nelson and Twitchell’s victory is well-earned and it’s high time – all of UAS student housing’s signs have Tlingit on them already – I’d like to draw attention more to the sign itself than what language is on it.

The campus welcome sign, one of the many new or renovated spaces on campus, seems emblematic not simply of the University’s growing concern for indigenous peoples, but also of it’s concern for image over function.

The University’s need to increase student enrollment is entirely understandable – student enrollment is a large part of our budget.

However, the University’s way of attending to this need has been for the past few years (and as far into the future as I can see) a bit more perplexing. From the recent completion of the Freshman Residence Hall to the much-vaunted plan for a student union (one of the consolation promises when the bookstore was closed), and the fixation on creating a “core campus mentality” the University seems to be operating under the same assumptions as Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come.

However, the University seems to entirely forget both what draws students to a university and what universities are for in the first place:  a space to learn from wiser people.

The UA System’s Strategic Pathways plan currently stipulates that the entirety of UAS’s School of Management should be cut and its programs placed under the auspices of the School of Arts and Sciences. The School of Arts and Sciences, meanwhile, has virtually lost its ‘Arts’ component – photography and theatre were among the most recent classes to go. If we keep building these signs instead of reviving programs, there will be nothing left to welcome new students to. If we keep renovating administrative offices instead of theatres and photo labs, there will be nothing left to administrate.

Now, I understand why renovation was necessary – I don’t have a problem with it or the shiny new spaces that have been created. I simply worry that the University’s plan for the future has been overcome by a grand fantasy in which marveling at architecture somehow keeps students in school.

Just look at the UAS Answers poll for this week – academic programs and job opportunities are what attracted these students and staff. Offices and unions need to get in line while the University focuses on its true purpose. It’s the only way we’re going to stay afloat.

But there’s no way I know everything about this issue. What do you think? Write a letter to the editor and send it to the e-mail below.

Feel free to contact Daniel Piscoya at dlpiscoya@alaska.edu or at the Whalesong e-mail: uas.whalesong@alaska.edu.

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