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Alaska lawmakers question views of professors, students

By The Associated Press
02.09.09

JUNEAU, Alaska — Some Alaska lawmakers aren't happy with political expressions and views coming from university campuses.

They expressed concern about what they said were derogatory opinions about the oil and mining industry from University of Alaska staff and students, who benefit from revenue produced by the state's leading industries.

The oil industry alone accounts for between 85% and 90% of the state's treasury.

Several members of the House Finance Committee grilled university President Mark Hamilton on the issue during a meeting Feb. 4 that served as prequel to considering funding requests.

"If I ask university staff, the people who are educating our future leaders, if they support the Chukchi Sea development, the Red Dog Mine or the Pebble Mine or any type of industry along those lines, a stereotypical response is they are in opposition," said state Rep. Anna Fairclough, R-Eagle River.

Meanwhile, education leaders are seeking more money for the universities, she said.

"I found it amazing there was a large disconnect in where the dollars for the state of Alaska come from on a regular basis as far as production of oil on the North Slope goes, and how it is turned into revenue for the state of Alaska and in turn is invested in the university system," she said.

"We probably have the most conservative faculty, and the most conservative student body, you'll ever meet," Hamilton said when defending his faculty and students. "Thank goodness you are not representing Berkeley."

But Fairclough wasn't swayed.

"How should I advocate more funding for an entire group that doesn't want to see development going forward?" she said.

She received support from the committee's co-chairman Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage.

"I can assure you that Rep. Fairclough is not the only person who has had that experience at this table," he said.

Hamilton urged the committee not to let some students' views carry the word of an entire university system.

"You can hope, as I do, that these students will mature over time," Hamilton said.

State Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, strongly disagreed with Fairclough's comments, while state Rep. Richard Foster, D-Nome, defended the university's educational efforts.

State Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, who is not on the committee but represents part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks community called Fairclough's comments "unfortunate."

"It wasn't encouraging for free speech or open dialogue," he said.

Alex Simon, a professor of sociology at the University of Alaska Southeast, called the lawmakers' views troubling.

"I guess they don't understand the nature of universities," he said. "It sounds like maybe we need to do a better job of educating the public on the role of the academy in society."


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