I admit it’s hard to keep track of the many avenues of malfeasance from the federal government, and a variety of state governments. But if you’re in higher education, I think it behooves us all to look at what’s happening in Alaska.
In Alaska, the governor has line-item veto power over the state budget, and he just cut the budget for universities by 41%. And when lawmakers gathered to override this veto, a third of the state legislators were in hiding from the state capital, declaring their own meeting in a middle school gymnasium in a suburb of Anchorage. The veto to override the budget cuts didn’t go through. This looks extremely dire for a lot of people in Alaska.
As a professor, I’m thinking immediately of colleagues who who are working in those institutions, as a huge number of layoffs must be in the works. Of course, this about much, much more than employment for academics. Universities are an engine of local economies, with every dollar invested into universities reaps a huge dividend that is several times greater than the original investment. This move puts state universities at risk of losing their accreditation. There are so many currently enrolled students who will be adversely impacted, and not to mention the prospects for students who are planning to attend university.
Moreover, Alaska is on the front lines of the climate crisis, and we need increased research, extension, and education about responding to these massive rates of change, which are disproportionately harming indigenous communities. Gutting state universities will only make this process more harmful.
We’ve been hearing rhetoric against higher education and against science from Republicans for quite a while now, and now we have a huge and tangible outcome of anti-university posturing. This wasn’t the only cut to the budget in Alaska, but clearly universities and social services have been singled out, and it’s not a necessary cut. It’s designed to hurt. The cruelty is the point.
This is a step beyond what happened in Wisconsin when an anti-education governor worked to gut the universities, and if they get away with it in Alaska, every state with a red governor and red legislation might be next. Even if it’s clear to us that universities are great for states, and that it’s money well spent, we’ve already seen that recently policy decisions aren’t designed to be informed by evidence and reason.
It’s also important that we fight against the proliferation of concentration camps. And warmongering against Iran. And, we need to keep doing our academic work. If you have colleague or collaborator in Alaska, think about reaching out, if only to provide a bit of emotional support. We’re all in this together.