Letters from the Editor: Up the long ladder

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UAF is an institution held hostage by bureaucracy. At so many levels, our needs and wants are ignored by entrenched administrators acting primarily in their own interest, a class of permanent employees who have learned in their long tenures that the student body’s collective memory tops out at about four years.

This is not to besmirch most of our school’s employees. Indeed, we’re lucky to have so many dedicated faculty members, student-facing functionaries and departments that do seek to enrich and enhance student life at the university. But for every two such admirable people, there’s at least one bureaucrat, comfortably segregated from the school’s attendees by layers of organizational girth. Sequestered away in back offices or off-campus, they’re hard to find but easy to identify–tending to react with confusion and annoyance if you walk into their offices.

It is hard, with so many threaded demands placed upon students, to try and keep track of the vast and complex system under which they work, live and study. But I can’t overstress the necessity of paying attention to the decisions of the bureaucrats overhead. Currently, we can be counted on to lose interest the moment a break or holiday begins, and this break in concentration is eagerly exploited, used to axe popular programs with minimal outcry. In recent memory, the UAFPD’s community service officer program quietly ceased mid-summer and the campus post office was gutted in favor of a frequently-broken kiosk. There are more examples the further back you look.

Don’t mistake this for a class struggle or a case of “us-versus-them” thinking–each side is only peripherally aware of the other. Students in particular only take notice to more egregious disruptions of their lives, particularly those that pertain to fee payment and housing, while the more entrenched bureaucrats simply act as though the students don’t exist. But in defiance of the prevailing wisdom, our school continues to have students and our needs should not be secondary at best. After all, an educational institution cannot exist without a student body and we did choose to be here.

There’s plenty of cause to be skeptical of UA President Johnsen’s villainously-named Strategic Pathways Initiative. Consolidation is never easy and it’s painful and concerning for some majors and departments to fade away due to shifting short-term priorities. But another stated aim of the program, its attempt to compress and streamline the bureaucratic structure of the campuses and the statewide structure, is long overdue. It’s my hope that we’ll be left with an institution that is more responses to the changing needs of Alaska’s students–and easier to hold to account when they fail in that duty.

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