Students from the University Alaska system held a rally Monday in protest of the governor’s proposed budget cuts.
“We wanted to use this opportunity to have everyone all together, because we’re all spread out across the state,” said Teresa Wrobel, a student at UA Anchorage who is also a senator in the UAA student government, in an interview with the Empire. “I think we hear a lot from a lot of different groups about how education is important, but I think we need to focus as well on the student voices — those who will be affected.”
Wrobel was part of the group that led a rally in front of the Capitol on the unusually warm afternoon. There were about 50 people attending the rally, but some people on Twitter noted that the university’s spring break schedule might have affected attendance.
I think it is the first day back after spring break, or close to it. That likely makes it a little harder to generate turnout for a number of reasons I would imagine.
— Arctic Velocipedist (@UrbaniteAlaska) March 18, 2019
The university is facing a 41 percent reduction to its budget due to state budget cuts proposed in Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s fiscal year 2020 budget. University System President Jim Johnsen said he would have no choice but to propose to the Board of Regents deep cuts for every UA campus including community campuses, major reductions to faculty and staff, and reduction and elimination of educational programs and services across the state if this operating budget passes as is.
“We don’t have to accept these cuts,” said Audrey Kirby, a student from UA Fairbanks. “They won’t hear us if we don’t do anything. …With a budget cut of this magnitude, it will make it almost impossible for anyone to have an experience like mine.”
James McLean, the vice president of The Associated Students of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, questioned why the cuts were targeting education. Education is one of the largest areas of the state operating budget, but other cuts have been proposed too, including the Alaska Marine Highway System, Medicaid, the Power Cost Equalization fund and others.
“We are going to fight for what we believe the University of Alaska should have,” he said. “What we’re doing here as the coalition of student leaders holding this rally, we’re going to the legislators and we’re forcing them to question themselves and to answer our questions as to why this is going on. And we’re showing them that we’re not just going to sit down and be docile while they cut our funds. … We have a right to an affordable education.”
Trystin Luhr also spoke at the rally, comparing Alaska to a boat that is “taking on water.”
“At the end of the day we need smart, well-informed Alaskans to maintain this ship that we call the last frontier,” he said. “I hope to see our future continue. I hope to able to work on this boat called Alaska.”
He’s a student at UA Southeast from Petersburg, and said he wants to be an Alaska State Trooper after graduation.
“One of the biggest contributors to crime in Alaska is poor education,” Luhr said. “It’s universally known that a poorly educated population is more likely to make crime. It’s awful. … At the end of the day a well-educated, well-informed and active populace is what we need. I implore our great leaders to do all that they can to say no to the current budget, to fund the universities and make our future possible.”
• Contact reporter Mollie Barnes at firstname.lastname@example.org.