Most colleges in Iowa are coping with the economic recession by cutting programs and faculty, but an institution in northeast Iowa is considering the addition of a campus 2,000 miles away. Leaders of the University of Dubuque are looking at the possibility of acquiring the campus of Sheldon Jackson College located in Sitka, Alaska.
University of Dubuque President Jeffrey Bullock says both colleges share a Presbyterian heritage and both fell on hard times about 10 years ago. Sheldon Jackson College didn’t survive and closed two years ago.
“There are no students, no faculty and no staff,” Bullock said of the college in Alaska. “There is a president. His primarily responsibility is to make whole the debt…the trustees there are very committed to making sure all their debts are paid off.” Sheldon Jackson College President David Dobler says he’d like to transfer the campus to the University of Dubuque with “no strings attached.” He says Sheldon Jackson would give Dubuque a living laboratory in environmental sciences on the rim of the North Pacific.
“The University of Dubuque has a very strong environmental science program centered on the Mississippi Valley,” Dobler said. “For them to also have this laboratory on the edge of the North Pacific is a wonderful opportunity for them, both for research, but especially to say to students – if you come to the University of Dubuque – you can (study) salmon from stream to tide…you have a big river and an inland sea.”
Bullock says the Dubuque campus also fell on hard times 10 years ago, but a decision to downsize paid off and now enrollment has tripled to just over 1,700 students. He says the University of Dubuque’s Board of Trustees will not want to assume any of Sheldon Jackson’s debt.
“Another significant assumption is, if there is to be a deal, the City of Sitka is going to need to be supportive,” Bullock said. “We are not in the business of rescuing other institutions, that’s not our primary responsibility.”
The University of Dubuque’s Board of Trustees will discuss the matter during a planning session in March. Bullock expects a final decision by May.