The University of Alaska Southeast campus on Monday, Dec. 9, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

The University of Alaska Southeast campus on Monday, Dec. 9, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: Small and large, UA campuses need the recall

  • By Therese Lewandowski
  • Sunday, May 10, 2020 7:00am
  • Opinion

I witnessed a profound truth during my 25 years as an administrative assistant at the University of Alaska’s Kachemak Bay Campus in Homer: Alaskans are hungry for in-state higher education. Sadly, with programs all over the state being shuttered, students are now leaving Alaska and taking their bright futures with them.

I spent my entire career watching students walk through the doors of a University of Alaska campus and understand the incredible opportunities that even a small school offers. I invite you to see the journey of my Kachemak Bay Campus as your own — because, truly, it is. Watch through the lens of your community how my campus flourished in decades past, watch how it fed livelihoods and grew an economy similar to yours.

In the 1980s, Kachemak Bay Campus students earned general education requirements and took courses on the new Apple computer, accounting/bookkeeping, and creative writing. By the 1990s, class offerings included small business management, a boon to Homer’s entrepreneurial populace. The Kenai Peninsula Writer’s Conference in the early 2000s brought in UAA faculty, published writers, agents and editors.

Around 2005, the sciences took off with a registered nursing degree, an Associate in Arts degree in nursing, and a certified nursing assistant certificate that equipped Homer and other Alaskans communities with dozens of health care professionals each year. We also gained a lab with the upper-level field biology program, Semester by the Bay, that taught local and Lower 48 students about our coastline. In 2010, the campus built a new learning center and testing lab for GED and English as a second language programs. Last year, we gained an additional healthcare degree—a BA in nursing. And let’s not forget the Jump Start program, which allowed high school juniors and seniors to take college classes for dual credit.

All this vibrant, community-building growth came to an abrupt halt in 2019, when Gov. Mike Dunleavy pulled out his famous red pen and threatened to slash the University of Alaska system by 41%. Shock, grief, and anger lead to an unprecedented groundswell of support for higher education. The governor, however, turned a deaf ear. That he got away with “just” $70 million dollars in cuts to such a vital economic driver was a harsh reality that left campuses all over the state scrambling to lay off staff and close programs.

Now, it’s 2020, and Governor Dunleavy has refused to listen, yet again, unleashing more vetoes. I wonder what the Kachemak Bay Campus will become — an online learning center perhaps without students and teachers opening real doors, spare class offerings, and bare-bones staff operations. All we know for certain is that programs built over the years are in jeopardy. Statewide university attendance fell 10% this year and many Alaskans are making plans to attend outside colleges and universities. Their fear is understandable.

I was always proud of our Kachemak Bay Campus. I witnessed lives change as students walked through its doors to take classes or pursue a degree. Tens of thousands of Alaskans have prospered similarly at other campuses over the years. I felt proud of these campuses in other parts of the state, too. Now, I’m heartbroken.

The governor himself has prospered in large part due to the University of Alaska, having received his teacher’s certificate and master’s of education degree at University of Alaska Fairbanks. His education afforded him a variety of good jobs including, now, running our state. If watching Dunleavy discard our universities after enjoying his own personal gain makes you angry, you’re not alone. Join me and over 50,000 other Alaskans and counting in support of recalling the governor It’s our university system, not the governor, that deserves an open door to Alaska’s future. If you haven’t yet signed the recall petition in 2020, please do so now.

And to all 2020 University of Alaska graduates, congratulations. You’ve earned a degree in trying times and your communities are so proud of you.

• Therese Lewandowski has lived in Homer, Alaska for 38 years and for 25 years was an administrative assistant at the University of Alaska’s Kachemak Bay Campus. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.

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