UAA students, athletes voice concerns over budget cuts
Some University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves teams have already begun their season, while others will start in a few weeks. It could be the beginning of the end for a handful of those programs, as they could be cut due to the state’s budget problems.
At a public meeting on campus Wednesday, university president Jim Johnsen laid it all out on the table, not bothering to mince words while discussing the cuts facing the university system.
“We have challenges, all right?” he said to the crowd gathered. “Based on what we needed for the current fiscal year, $377 million, we got $325 million from the legislature. That’s 14 percent.”
And a third straight reduction. Those cuts could lead to major changes at UAA, particularly for sports. The athletic department had its budget reduced for the third straight year, this time to the tune of $1.7 million.
Hockey has been part of the landscape since 1979, but now the team is one of four that could be cut to save money.
It will be Chase Van Allen’s final season either way, but the senior hopes his team will see next year.
“To be honest, without that, I would probably be out on a fishing boat in Bristol Bay,” he said at the meeting. “Not to take that away from anyone that does that, great money, long hours, but it’s not the career I would have chose, not the one I wanted to do.”
Allen joined his teammates and coaches as they pointed out the other ways the program has contributed.
“Fifty percent of our alumni have stayed here, 50-percent of them live in our community, and they teach our youth, so, when you’re talking about teachers, that’s very important,” said Matt Thomas, the hockey team’s head coach.
Members of the gymnastics team also attended the hearing. It, along with men’s and women’s cross-country skiing, could also be eliminated.
While sports took up the overwhelming majority of the public hearing, UAA’s student council president reminded people that’s only part of the issue.
“I tell you I don’t want to see athletics go away as much as anyone else, but, I also don’t want to see hastier, dangerous decisions made about the college of business or engineering, major institutional factors in the state, that could be affected, if too much attention is given to one specific program,” said Sam Erickson.
Johnsen said college athletics will continue in Alaska, but at this point he’s just not sure which teams will be playing and which are facing their final season.
“We’re under a lot of pressure,” he said of budgetary considerations.
Johnsen will update the board of regents next week on where things stand. The board is expected to announce their final decision in November.
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