Education move follows Juneau donation
The UAF School of Education is still reeling after having the rug pulled out from under them. A last-minute $1 million donation from the City of Juneau preceded a sudden change of heart by the UA board of regents and system president, who have chosen the Southeast campus to host the education program’s administrative center and flagship school.
UA President Jim Johnsen had previously recommended Fairbanks as the education program’s home prior to the board of regents vote on December 14 of last year. The donation offer was emailed to Johnsen and the regents the day before the final decision was made.
Johnsen insisted the donation played no role in the decision making.
“There was zero conversation about the municipality of Juneau providing funding to the project,” Johnsen said. “That didn’t weigh a dime.”
For some regents, however, the money played a huge role, bringing into question the ethics of the vote itself.
“It was very instrumental and certainly was a factor” Dale Anderson, a regent from Juneau, told the Juneau Empire.
For members of the UAF school of education, this wrinkle only adds to their concerns.
“Will this quick idea of a single mega College of Education at UAS serve the students of Alaska well?” Ute Kaden, UAF chair of Second Education, said. “Or is it a politically motivated project, without a solid budget plan, without vision for what exactly will be accomplished and how, and missing analysis for future sustainability?”
Johnsen said part of the decision was made on the basis that the other two campuses would suffer smaller losses from losing their schools.
While changes are imminent, Johnsen clarified that education classes, faculty and students will remain at the other two main campuses, emphasizing Juneau will be the administrative center of the school.
“This is where the dean will sit,” Johnsen said, “This isn’t going to be where the people are. There are likely going to be more education faculty sitting in Fairbanks than there will be in Juneau and likely will be more students in Fairbanks and Anchorage than there will be in Juneau.”
The issues of concern for UAF faculty include how sustainable the program cost will be, how the new program will increase the number of Alaska trained teachers and whether a change in program structure may lead to confusion and fewer students.
Kaden has been with the UAF School of Education since 2008 as an associate professor for math and scientific education classes. She has concerns about the lack of National Science Foundation funding and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) focus at UAS.
UAS does not have any NSF grant history in the school of education.
“Collaboration with faculty from strong STEM departments at UAF is essential for NSF funding and excellence in math and science teacher education,” Kaden said. “Our future math and science teachers deserve to be connected and supported by UAF.”
UAF is currently the only School of Education to have NSF funding.
While department chairs have said they look forward to working with UAS to better serve students in education, Kaden is not the only member of the UAF School of education to have concerns.
“Although it was disappointing that education personnel were not provided the same opportunities for input that are now being allowed for other programs under Strategic Pathways review,” Carol Barnhardt, chair of elementary education, said. “UAF faculty do look forward to continued collaborative work with our colleagues to support the preparation excellent educations for Alaska,”
Barnhardt spoke for her fellow chairs, who share a similar opinion.
These shared misgivings about aspects of the new structure that have been left seemingly unanswered, however.
Interim Dean Steve Atwater is cautiously hopeful for this experiment in structure.
“I am disappointed that the administrative lead for the new college of education will not be based at UAF,” Atwater said. “I am however, optimistic that the complex reorganization will be thorough and will result in improved programs for our students.
Last Friday, the UAF school of education faculty met with Johnsen to discuss the regents’ decision to create a restructured College of Education at in Juneau.
“Some call the plan a ‘move of the leadership for a college of education to UAS’, which is a misleading interpretation of the proposed task,” Kaden said.
At the meeting, SOE faculty and staff discussed the complexity of the issue and possible impacts on student enrollment, faculty positions, quality program offerings and grant and external funding opportunities.
According to Kaden, one big concern shared by many was that this project will hold a high price tag without providing concrete solutions.
“Alaska’s people may not want to pay the huge bill for an imaginary college of education project in Juneau that limits college access and has uncertain educational outcomes in financially challenging times,” Kaden said.
Johnsen defended his decision, stating UAS was chosen because the board feels it will be the campus to put education first.
While Johnsen says faculty input will be included in this process. UAF faculty continue to have reservations about the change.
“In my opinion, this project will not serve the people of Alaska,” Kaden said.