UA president praises legislators for funding increase

Posted: Tuesday, February 06, 2001

JUNEAU -- Along with his annual demand for more money, University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton praised lawmakers Monday for energizing the school's students, faculty and supporters with last year's infusion of cash.

The university is seeking a $16.9 million increase from the state's general fund. Hamilton, a former Army general, followed the pattern he set in the two previous years, aggressively demanding both the money and the responsibility for how it gets spent.

Last year, the university got $13.6 million of a similar request, along with $1.7 million in one-time funds, said Wendy Redman, vice president for university relations. Hamilton said the money boosted enrollment, morale and donations from both corporations and private citizens after years of cutbacks.

''You have turned this university around, partially because of dollars, but mostly because of the courage of your commitment,'' Hamilton told a joint meeting of the House and Senate Finance Committees.

University students and more than half the Legislature's members packed the hearing room to listen to the presentation.

Hamilton touted the university as an economic engine for the state and its residents, a way to train homegrown talent to take high-paying jobs in engineering, oil and gas development, transportation and information technology that would otherwise go to Outsiders.

''Are you rich if your children go elsewhere to go to school?'' Hamilton asked. ''Are you rich if you must import all your expertise? Are you rich if you don't control your own destiny? I don't think so.''

Among other accomplishments, Hamilton cited the Alaska Scholars Program, which provides $11,000 scholarships to Alaska students who finish in the top 10 percent of their high school class. The program has grown in each of its three years of existence from 270 in 1999 to 566 this year, Hamilton said.

Hamilton also cited new programs designed to provide workers in high-demand fields, including:

n Two-year nursing programs in Fairbanks and Kodiak.

n A pilot certificate program in information technology at the Juneau campus.

n Two-year programs designed to provide workers in the oil, gas and telecommunications industry.

n Undergraduate and graduate programs in logistics.

Some of next year's increase would go toward similar expansion, although the largest chunk -- $5 million -- would pay for salary increases mandated by the university's contracts with its faculty and staff.

Hamilton's vigorous performance went over well with the Republican-dominated committees, where state officials seeking budget often get a chilly reception.

''People want to be able to invest in something and get a return on it,'' said Senate Finance Committee Co-Chairman Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks. ''That sells well around here.''

However, Kelly and his counterparts in the House say there's no guarantee Hamilton will get his increase.

''President Hamilton's enthusiasm is catching and his story is compelling,'' said House Finance Committee Co-Chairman Eldon Mulder. ''I'm not saying that he's going to get every penny he asks for.''

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