Can you hear us now, Mr. Governor?

Student representatives from UA campuses work together for university funding

By MELISSA SCRIVEN

Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong 

Student government representatives from University of Alaska campuses across the state gathered in Juneau to advocate for university funding during the UA Legislative Affairs Conference March 16 to 19. 

Gov. Michael Dunleavy’s budget proposal includes a $134 million cut to the UA system. This would be a 41 percent cut to current UA state funding, which comes from the state’s undesignated general fund. In a March 4 letter to the UA Community, Dunleavy stated the reduction would result “in an approximate difference of 17 percent from last year’s total budget.” The total budget includes all UA revenue sources, including student tuition and fees, which are unrealized income and outside the state’s undesignated general fund. 

Rally for UA

Students and community members rallied on the windy steps of the state capitol on March 18, holding signs that included “Don’t Mess With My Future” and “Fund Our Future.”

“I’m advocating for the University of Alaska because I want the students of the future to have this experience,” USUAS-JC President Nick Bursell said in a speech at the start of the rally. 

“[Students] didn’t come here, from in-state or out, to go to an unsupported university,” he said.

USUAS-JC President Nick Bursell delivered a speech and led a series of chants during the March 18 rally. 
PHOTO BY MELISSA SCRIVEN

Bursell is also chairman of the University of Alaska Coalition of Student Leaders, comprised of student members from across the UA system. The Legislative Conference allowed members to meet and discuss issues in person.

He encouraged students to reach out to legislators in support of higher education. 

“The stronger an effort we can make, the harder it will be for them to turn us down,” Bursell said. 

After the rally, Kevin Maier, UAS Associate Professor of English, said, “I feel like the Legislature needs to hear from everybody right now.”

“The people that don’t show up probably stand to lose the most,” Maier said. 

Legislative Meetings

During the last two days of the legislative conference, student representatives met in small groups with individual legislators to advocate for UA. In appointments at legislators’ offices, they told their stories and asked for UA funding support.

Before those meetings, state legislators and UA representatives helped prepare students with information about the budget and how to talk to legislators. Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, and chairman of the University of Alaska House Finance Subcommittee, gave a presentation on the state budget and revenue. 

“The problem is we are now basically married to this one principle revenue source, which is the oil industry, and prices don’t support the revenue we need,” Josephson said.

Gov. Dunleavy has said his budget is based on the principle that expenditures cannot exceed revenues.

“My budget proposes no new revenues from Alaskans. While some wish to ignore Alaskans and propose billion-dollar taxes and PFD grabs to close our financial gap, I’ve made clear that this is out of line with the core beliefs of most Alaskans and the promises I made on the campaign trail,” Dunleavy stated in a Feb. 13 press release.

Josephson said without additional sources of revenue coming into the state budget, “what we’re left with is a battle between dividends and government.” 

“Literally, the University of Alaska is in competition with the (Permanent Fund) dividend,” Josephson said.

He spoke in favor of university funding and finding new solutions. “If we’re going to impose a different path forward we need to give the university time to adjust for that,” Josephson said.

Celeste Harrell, Brandy Mulbury and Eleanor Ruchti were among USUAS-JC Senators representing UAS at the conference.

The Take Away

Harrell said her biggest take away from the conference was “the gist of how this works, what the problem is with how it’s supposed to work and why it’s not working, and what we can do about that.”

Mulbury called the experience a good way to clarify some facts before speaking to legislators. “This year specifically, I think the major thing to come out of this is advocating for the budget as a school representative,” she said.

Ruchti said the event was meant to show the Legislature why UA is important. She wanted to encourage students to reach out in any way they can.

“It’ll mean the world of difference when it comes down to the final say,” Ruchti said.

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