Letters from the Editor: Not quite a century
Next year does not mark UAF’s 100th anniversary. Look no further than the entryway to Constitution Hall; you’ll find a university seal that contradicts the celebratory banners around campus.
There’s been no small amount of debate about this date and the university seal has changed several times. Once it read 1935, the year the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines was reorganized as the University of Alaska. Later it read 1917, the year legislation was passed to create a college in the Territory of Alaska and during which the first Board of Regents was convened. But 1922 was the year the school first opened its doors and had professors teaching classes to students. You know, the things that actually define an educational institution. (You can find more background on this in Terrence Cole’s excellent book, “The Cornerstone on College Hill.“)
By my thinking, the opening of the university is probably a more relevant anniversary to celebrate than that of people discussing the idea. UA’s administration, meanwhile, clearly disagrees with me. To be fair I don’t think I can blame them; although their effort is disingenuous, it’s motivated by a desire to drum up interest in the school. Their endgame, not atypical in this budget climate, is that of raising funds to keep the doors that opened some 94 years ago from closing permanently.
Despite this bit of confusion over our school’s year of origin, there is one anniversary that I can confirm: our newspaper’s humble predecessor was founded 70 years ago next week. With little more than a typewriter, a mimeograph machine and an earnest desire to be a thorn in the side of university administration, the Polar Star started publication on Oct. 23, 1946. In doing so, it began a tradition of independent, student-run journalism at UAF that my staff and I are proud to continue to this day.
In this anniversary issue, we’re starting a History section of the paper. For the next year you’ll be able to see and read selections from the Sun Star and Polar Star in years past, as preserved in the Rasmuson’s Alaska and Polar Regions Archives as well as our office records.
As you’ll see from no small number of these selections, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing here in Constitution Hall. The first 3 years of the Polar Star’s operation were marked by fierce competition with the Farthest North Collegian, a paper written by students but closely monitored and censored by the administration. Though ASUA initially created the newspaper, there were many power struggles between the student government and the Polar Star’s staff, resulting in editors being fired and door locks being changed. A further scrape with the Journalism department’s Northern Sun in 1981 led to the merger, resulting in the “Sun Star” moniker readers know today.
Student-run and unsupervised operation is, in many regards, a blessing and a curse. Today our newspaper has a rather mixed reputation in no small part because of inconsistent leadership and intent over the years. Molly, our layout editor, has found nearly as many mastheads as we’ve had years of operation, and even in just the past decade the paper has shifted from a newspaper to an arts-focused alt-weekly and back again. I’ve done my best to keep the aesthetic and quality of the paper consistent since last year, but there’s even odds that my successor will throw it all away and start from scratch as so many editors have done before.
For all its blemishes and scars, I believe the newspaper is an important part of the fabric of UAF and its community. For 70 years we’ve brought to light issues important to students, as well as providing no small number of professional journalists valuable experience before their leap into the industry—not bad for a paper started with just a typewriter and a dream. With strong leadership, a little luck and most importantly your continued interest and support, the Sun Star will be alive and kicking for the foreseeable future.
Maybe it’ll even last beyond that; perhaps some editor will quote this piece in 2096 for our 150th anniversary. We can always hope.