UA: An Alternative Defense

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

In Staff Writer Erin Laughlin’s article on the University of Alaska’s budget debate with the state, she makes reference to the projection that, by 2025, 65% of Alaska’s jobs will require higher education. For the Alaska Postsecondary Access and Completion Network, this isn’t simply a projection, this is a goal. Nicknamed the “65 by 2025” goal, the network has aimed to ensure that “65% of Alaskans have a credential by 2025,” according to their website, 65by2025.org.

UA President Jim Johnsen uses this projection and goal as a defense of UA against further budget cuts:

“Alaskans must know that these cuts exact a serious price on our university’s ability to serve our state’s people, our economy and, most important, our state’s future,” he said, when proposing the UA’s FY18 Operating Budget to the Senate Finance Committee.

However, university structure in the way that universities credit degrees is not fully compatible with this defense. Few universities can claim that every aspect of every program is oriented towards preparing students for the workforce.

What’s more, students can sense this. How many UAS students walk into the Learning Center frustrated that they have to take an algebra class, when their degree is in social science? At a guess, quite a few.

The current narrative in support of the University of Alaska ignores an aspect of universities that is often forgotten: namely, that sometimes college doesn’t prepare students for ‘real life,’ but allows us a vital retreat from it.

The studies of abstract algebra, English literature, and theatre appreciation can’t simply be written off as job preparation – they are more than that. And yet we’re trying to defend their existence under those auspices. Is it such a surprise that these departments get gutted first?

Rather than try the tenuous position that ‘real life’ jobs require close textual analysis and  intimate knowledge of prosceniums, an alternative defense of the University – one that doesn’t deny the efficacy of the current defense – would hold that universities are important caretakers of knowledge and culture.

Rather than wave an uncertain future in the faces of those already tasked with worrying about it, President Johnsen might point out that UA is instrumental in much-needed Alaska Native language revitalization, or proffer powerful inter-generational learning opportunities like Art of Place.

In short, rather than reduce the UA system to a degree-factory for the sake of survival, let us pay better attention to our roots: we are tasked with the preservation of knowledge without which the state itself would be soulless.

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

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