Monday, July 01, 2019

Should the University of Alaska Go On "Strike"

The University of Alaska system is facing a massive crisis as Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy just vetoed $130 million dollars in state funding (this was part of a much broader ax Dunleavy took to the state budget as he seeks to divert money away from public services and towards the cash payout Alaskans receive from the state each year). Along with a $5 million cut the university had already absorbed, this amounts to a cut of over 40% of its state funding.

You can read the letter the university President sent out here; it paints a pretty grim picture. It's well beyond a hiring freeze or furloughs -- the president is indicating the university might have to declare a state of financial exigency, discontinuing entire programs and laying off tenured faculty members. It's the type of body blow a university might never recover from.

Given the increased hostility the GOP has directed towards the entire idea of higher education, one suspects that might be the point. But I'm wondering whether it might be worthwhile to call the bluff. Instead of furloughs or firings or program terminations, the hot take play for the university leadership might be to vote to suspend operations outright. Announce the university is not a viable academic entity at the level of funding the Governor has deigned to allocate, and shut down the university until a more reasonable budget is restored.

In essence, it's a strike -- but a strike implemented and approved by the university leadership (so arguably more of a lock-out, but really the entire idea is pretty sui generis, as far as I know).

This is a spitball idea -- I'm not wedded to it, and I can imagine any number of details I don't know which might suggest it's a bad idea. Certainly, it'd be a deeply painful move that would ask for immense sacrifice from university students, staff, and faculty. But then, so would capitulating. It's a high-stakes gamble, but it might be worth the risk. If it wants to remain a viable institution of higher education, the University is more likely to survive a temporary cessation of operation than it is wholesale destruction of entire departments, programs, academic and career support services, and the tenure system. The latter would represent the obliteration of the university in all but name. But if Alaska politicians want to destroy the University of Alaska, they should be forced to face that consequence outright.

No comments: