It’s safe to say that the University of Alaska (UA) system was fighting for its life in 2019, facing a $130 million budget cut that was later called a cut as part of the state’s own budget problems of the budget by $70 million was negotiated. Then the pandemic struck, and budgets and enrollment remained rocky despite being far better than they could have been, particularly at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF). It’s easy to see the crisis in big budget numbers. It’s harder to see the crisis in the way that money is being spent, but that’s what UA is facing now: an allocation crisis that threatens the university’s founding — the miserable allocation for faculty doing research teach, serve and lead our students and the related courses. Contract negotiations between the faculty council and UA are currently in arbitration, with money being a contentious issue.
In fact, UA faculty has received a 1% pay rise over the past five years, which is well below the rate of inflation. At the same time, several programs have been cut, about 30% of teachers (including permanent teachers) have been laid off, and many of those who remain have taken on more work for steadily falling salaries. Some faculty have left the UAF, taking their research grant funds with them. UAF is less attractive to new faculty because of our low pay and because many positions are now non-tenury with no job security. The combination of low pay, low job security and higher workload is not conducive to attracting the best and brightest. Nor is it conducive to serve our sons and daughters in the state of Alaska. I have a long history with UAF as a student and employee and want other Alaskans to have the same opportunities.
I am a lifelong Alaskan, the daughter of Courtney Linkous and the late Ed Linkous, and staying in Alaska was important to me and my parents. I think they were happy when I took my first job at UAF in 1999. Newly married, I live in Fort Yukon and am doing my PhD. At the UAF, accepting a position at the local university department was a breeze. Education would never be as lucrative as it had been for her to do business, but it was good, meaningful work that would keep me here, which is also vital for my husband (I remember one of my Sisters in Law, who commented that you couldn’t pry a Carroll man out of Fort Yukon).
Over the years I have always worked for one college, the College of Rural and Community Development, and in 2014 I was hired for a tenure track position at the Department of Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development. This was a bit of a dream come true for me as it brought together my great loves: Alaska, academics and culture. It was a wonderful and meaningful experience. I see myself doing my small part to expand the space for Indigenous perspectives in scholarship through my work with rural and Alaskan Native students. It is important, emotional and sometimes difficult work. My colleagues and I are happy to take it on, but as my salary continues to fall behind, my security as a faculty member is undermined, and my academic freedom is threatened, I’m beginning to wonder if the passion I have for my work is appreciated by UA will.
And I worry if my kids will have the same opportunities at UAF. Will UAF have the strong programs, research opportunities, and student support that were available to me when I was completing my MA and Ph.D. at UAF? Will there be a faculty that can direct their progress and the progress of our Alaskan students? Alaskans have been very fortunate to have access to affordable, quality education and world-class research within the state, but with every faculty that departs, with every funded semester hire, with every research grant that slips through our fingers , we reduce the educational opportunities for our children. Prospective students will either leave the state, perhaps never return, or find limited educational opportunities at home. As our union campaign states, the working conditions of the faculty are the learning conditions of the students. My children deserve the best learning conditions, and so do yours.
Jennifer Carroll is a lifelong Alaskan living in Fairbanks and is a faculty member at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.