06 NOV 1976
Statement to Some Students
at the University of Alaska, Anchorage
Thank you for inviting me here to speak with you today. There are many years between us, and the distance between us is often very lonely. When I used to serve in the Legislature, I used to enjoy going to Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka to meet with students there from Arctic Slope communities. But each year that I visited them I would see them from a farther distance, as if I were in a boat pulling away from the shore. I haven’t been able to talk with students lately, and I am really very happy that you have taken time to meet with me today.
You and I have something in common: a strong interest in education. I hold education to be a very important thing. I regret that I was not able to get past my eighth year of school. Village politics prevented me from going on to high school, and I have often wondered what difference more education would have made in my life. Some people say that I am better off for having escaped high school education at the hands of the BIA. But lately, you hear many people complaining about the entire institution of education, and I understand that fewer young people are going to college, and that enrollments are dropping across the nation. There seems to be a loss of faith in our schools. Entire school systems are closing down for this lack of faith when citizens have refused to vote new school revenue measures and bond issues.
I have an old fashioned faith in education, and I feel that we should work hard to restore this faith in others. But I can understand why people lose faith. I have never told the story of our efforts to establish a program of higher education on the Arctic Slope in a public forum, but I would like to touch on it briefly here today. I’m told that the story of the Inupiat University of the Arctic will be told in the Anchorage newspapers.
One of the first efforts of the North Slope borough, after we organized and went through years of litigation and political fighting with the oil corporations at Prudhoe Bay, was to organize our own college, now called the Inupiat University of the Arctic. We asked the University of Alaska to help us establish a community college, but we were refused, so we decided to go it alone, and contracted with Antioch College to help us. After we began this effort, suddenly the University of Alaska responded by establishing their own Extension Center Program in Barrow, and the director of this extension center somehow got control of our new college’s finances and became involved in a financial scandal that is even now being investigated by the State Police, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I’ll not go into details here because it is not a happy story. I suspect that we will all hear much more about this as time goes on.
Now, I’m speaking to you today as adult consumers of the services of our State University. My experience with Alaska’s post-secondary education establishment has not been a happy one. There is something seriously wrong with education in Alaska if the problems suffered by our new Inupiat University of the Arctic at the hands of the University of Alaska could happen without being challenged by some responsible member of the educational profession in our State. It is not that we have kept quiet about our problems. On two occasions, we complained to the new Alaska Post Secondary Education Commission, but we were ignored, and the staff of this Commission seemed more interested in covering up the problems than doing something about them. If any of you here are doing research in the area of educational development in Alaska, our experience in trying to establish our own college in Barrow will interest you, and I hope somebody does take the time to document our experience.
Now that I have seen the dark side of education that I never knew existed, I am fearful for you and other consumers of educational services. I worry about whether or not you are getting our money’s worth. I worry about all this because I will have to grow older and weaker in a world in which you who are now in college will be in charge. Based upon my experience with the University, I worry about how well you are being equipped to deal with the problems that will touch upon my life when I am older.
The Democratic campaign of 1976, all across the nation, is based upon the restoration of oil values. I am confident that the old values of education in America, and in our State, will be restored. They will be restored by reconnecting education to the life of our people, and the work that they must do. This restoration will take place through greater democratic involvement of you students in the management of the University; through connecting college instruction with work and vocational development in the market place; and by connecting the life of the University with the life of our cities and villages of Alaska. I’m hoping that higher education in Alaska can lead the way in this direction for our whole nation. This is why I helped establish our own college in Barrow.
If I were in Congress, I would work to influence Federal education legislation to encourage our universities to get involved in the restoration of America. I would connect the classroom to the job through special tax incentives that would reward businesses for getting actively involved in the education and training of high school and college students. There is no reason why college years cannot be turned into financially rewarding, productive years of your life. I feel strongly about this. for each of you are your own best teachers.
I hope to be able to move around the University campus here today to meet and talk with you. I’ll be glad to answer your questions. Thank you for inviting me to speak