My grandparents immigrated from Sweden to Yakutat in the early 1900s. My grandmother, Jenny was a Christian missionary and my grandfather, E.A., an educator and missionary. Faith was their guiding light, and they believed strongly that all people were to be treated with dignity, compassion and respect. These values were instilled into their two children, Maud Evangeline and my father, Elmer Rasmuson, and my dad passed them on to me and to my two sisters, Lile and Judy. In many ways, these values serve as the pillars upon which Rasmuson Foundation was built.
I and my fellow Rasmuson Foundation board members have been reflecting a lot recently on the state of our country. We’ve been thinking about the death of George Floyd, watching the raw emotions and agony being processed before our eyes on live television. In the last week, we’ve seen the good in people – including right here in Anchorage where community members came together in solidarity to peacefully demonstrate, mourn the loss of a life and support each other. And we’ve seen the bad: the violence and division.
Under that backdrop, members of our board met this week to talk about our values and how to respond in this moment. We are living in a time where both action and inaction are statements about who you are and what you value. Going back to the days of Jenny and E.A., our family has always stood up against injustice. My grandmother fought to keep bootleggers out of Yakutat (quite successfully I am told). My stepmother, Mary Louise Rasmuson, was a member of the first Women’s Army Corps and was recognized for her work integrating Black Women into the WACs and fighting for equality.
In addition to growing National Bank of Alaska into the largest bank in the state before selling it to Wells Fargo in 2000 to focus on philanthropy, my father was Mayor of Anchorage. In his book, “Banking on Alaska”, he spoke about what he was most proud of from his tenure as Anchorage’s chief executive. One thing he identified was “peaceful progress on civil rights and equality for all, at a time when racial strife was tearing the nation apart.”
Under his tenure, the Human Rights Committee was created and the first fair housing ordinance outlawing discrimination in the city passed. He was an outspoken supporter of equal rights for African Americans, and became a lifetime member of the NAACP.
We know there is no easy solution when talking about racism and inequity. But this is an issue we will continue to address. Our board meets later this month, and we intend to discuss the issue of racism, just as we have addressed homelessness, alcoholism and other societal challenges.
I will close with an anecdote about my father. On one occasion in 1965, he received an angry letter from a Homer man who believed that an Anchorage demonstration in support of voting rights was communist inspired. “I hope you appreciate,” Elmer wrote back, “that people have the right to march and parade as you also have the right to write letters.”
Elmer truly did see the dignity, compassion and respect in all people, even when he disagreed with what they were saying. When my grandparents moved to a Tlingit village in the early 1900’s they were greeted with love. Today, that love is reflected back to Alaska through the Rasmuson Foundation.
Ed Rasmuson, Chairman
Rasmuson Foundation, on behalf of the Rasmuson Foundation Board of Directors
University Board of Regents will face tough choices in June
The University of Alaska is facing immediate and significant financial headwinds brought on by state budget cuts, enrollment and tuition declines and budget impacts visited upon us by the COVID-19 crisis. And like the virus itself, this budget challenge is real, painful, and one that demands that we take swift action to protect our university and its critical mission and service to Alaskans.
The Board of Regents governs the university and it is our job, our responsibility to address this challenge now before it overtakes our ability to respond quickly. That means tough choices will be before us in June for consideration.
As in any crisis, the Board of Regents must reconcile the need to take action with a great number of unknowns and the uncertainty about how we must adapt and change. I share these concerns, but we must, and we will face them.
To begin with, we have a process for how to think about and ultimately make needed decisions – a process that started in early May when regents asked to better understand the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the university’s finances. Two weeks later, on May 13, President Johnsen provided us that information, and it was a sobering moment as we realized the serious budget gap we faced.
The committee then directed the president to present options to the Board of Regents at the meeting in June and asked that these options provide real change for transforming the university and solving the financial imbalance. Possible options for transformation came from many sources including those gathered from previous reviews, community campus directors, governance representatives, the chancellors and others. The options were reviewed by our leadership and by our business and academic councils. A list of final options was developed, which you can find at www.alaska.edu/bor/solutions.
An additional part of the process includes the discussions that the chancellors and the president are having with their respective communities, as well as the two public testimony sessions the board has and will hold to hear from anyone interested in providing us with input.
In addition to these opportunities, we welcome and encourage you to continue to provide ideas for our consideration.
I know there will be disagreement and concern about these options. Already we’ve heard many voices and many opinions about them, but the Board of Regents may need to make some tough decisions in June that will provide for transformative action. You will be integral to helping us solve the challenges to build a better future and position the university to be stronger and more sustainable.
The board may make immediate decisions or ask for more information with a decision to be made at a future meeting. Regardless, the choices will be tough and impact people, but the numbers paint a picture that we cannot ignore.
The board understand that these actions will impact everyone, but we accept that change is necessary and we will take up the discussion and actions with our eyes wide open.
Our decisions will be informed by our revenue picture as well as by our best understanding of what our enrollment will be and what any future budget constraints will be, and while there is absolutely no pleasure in making these hard choices, I can promise you that our values will guide us in all of our actions, and that we will continue to put the well-being of our students, staff and faculty first.
Sheri Buretta, Chair
University of Alaska Board of Regents