December 06, 2007

UA regents agree to bachelor’s degree in Yup’ik language, culture

For Immediate Release
Thursday, Nov. 6, 2007

Starting in January 2008, students at the University of Alaska will be able to begin earning credits toward a four-year degree in Yup’ik  language and culture at the Kuskokwim campus in Bethel.
“In Yup’ik, the program is called Yupiit Nakmiin Qaneryaraat Piciryaraat-llu,” Oscar Alexie, assistant professor of Yup’ik at the Bethel campus, said Thursday at the UA Board of Regents’ meeting in Anchorage. “That means ‘the very own language and culture of the Yup’ik people’.”
The board, which met for two days on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus this week, approved the four-year program. The program will build upon existing certificate and two-year programs in Yup’ik language proficiency and Native language education in Bethel.
The new program is expected to attract up to 15 students initially. It was designed to meet specific local needs expressed by Bethel region schools, communities and students. University officials believe, however, that the program will serve as a model for additional indigenous language programs throughout the state.
Kuskokwim Campus, under the umbrella of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, worked closely with UAF's Alaska Native Language Center to develop the program.
“Part of the focus of the program is improving Yup’ik language instruction in the K-12 school system—that holds strong potential for increasing interest in this baccalaureate degree,” said Susan Henrichs, UAF provost.
The new degree program is not expected to cost additional money because Kuskokwim Campus already has two Yup’ik language faculty members who actively teach. However, the classes haven’t been packaged into a four-year program in the past. Doing so will allow students who have already completed the certificate or two-year program the option to continue on with their studies.
The Fairbanks campus offers four-year degrees in Inupiaq and Yup’ik, but those programs are more focused on grammar, translation and literacy rather than the full immersion program Bethel will offer, which emphasizes speaking the language as well as learning the culture. UAF also offers certificate and two-year degree programs on Native language education with an emphasis in Inupiaq, Athabascan or Central Yup’ik.
The University of Alaska Southeast, headquartered in Juneau, offers courses in Tlingit and Haida language as part of a minor in Alaska Native studies, but does not offer a specific degree in the language itself. UAS also works with local high schools to provide Tlingit language instruction with the hope that students will pursue Tlingit courses later in college.
Alexie and Henrichs spoke in favor of the program, as did Patrick Marlow, an assistant professor of linguistics at UAF’s Alaska Native Language Center and the School of Education.
At the University of Alaska Anchorage, Alaska Native language courses offer students instruction in Central and Siberian Yup’ik, Tlingit, Inupiaq, and Haida-Eyak. Students may take these courses as part of a minor in Alaska Native studies, to meet general education requirements or for their personal interest, but a bachelor’s degree specifically in one of those languages is not available.
The board also tackled numerous other items of business, including:
• Design and cost approval of a new $17 million parking garage at UAA, needed for the Integrated Sciences building currently under construction. The project already has $3.5 million in hand; the additional $13.5 million would be financed with annual debt service paid for with parking fees.
• Payment authorization for an additional $630,000 required for UAF's Wood Center food court renovation, due to increased costs related to construction.
• Approval of a $25.8 million bond sale, which would include the UAA parking garage as well as numerous other projects previously approved and reported.
The board also heard an update on the status of an external review of UAF’s Cooperative Extension Service. A plan for further action is expected to come to the board in February, after the report is finalized. For more information about the report, go to
In other business, board members heard a positive report from KPMG, the  firm that audits the university’s financial statements and records each year. Board members also attended a luncheon with UA alumni from across the system and a reception hosted by UAA Chancellor Fran Ulmer.
For more information, call Kate Ripley at 907/450-8102 or 907/388-3506.