UAF’s Really Bad, Terrible, Not-So-Good Week

Congratulations, Baer! I think you've exterminated the species!

Congratulations, Baer! I think you just wiped out the species! – Gahan Wilson

Not all publicity is good publicity. Just ask the University of Alaska. They’ve had two very embarrassing stories in the last week.

Heinrich “Henry” Springer, 78,  is under very serious criminal investigation for violations of federal laws protecting birds.

WC has always found “collectors” – folks who kill animals in the name of science – to be problematic. Many bird populations under under severe ecological threat and pressures. Killing them in the name of science seems to WC to be very bad science. But the investigation of Henry Springer is especially troubling.

The Ornithology Lab at the University of Alaska Museum of the North is named after Henry Springer. He’s a former state legislator, former Alaska Department of Transportation engineer in Nome, and “collected” a significant portion of the bird specimens at the Museum.

Now he’s being investigated for violations of the Migratory Bird Act and, if the News-Miner article has it right, has made some extraordinarily damaging admissions:

Springer also reportedly told agents he had bribed a Mexican customs official who seemed to discover that a turkey skin had been stuffed with bird specimens that were illegal to import. Springer also allegedly boasted that he and a friend had gone on a hunting trip to Peru and smuggled dozens of prohibited specimens back into the U.S.

He reportedly told an undercover agent that unorganized Peruvian officials “don’t even know what’s going on. They’re so rare down there, they don’t even know yet. We’re not even on the radar screen.”

 It’s fair to ask who leaked the search warrant application to the press; it’s not a public document. But however leaked, it’s a black eye for the University. Springer has several earlier violations. WC supposes the University’s collecting permit is in jeopardy. Which may not be an entirely bad thing.

And then the other foot finally fell on the UAF violations of the National Collegiate Athletics Association rules back in 2007-2012. The violations were committed by folks who are long gone, and the punishment, such as it is, falls on the kids who are enrolled there now. But no one ever accused the NCAA of being progressive. The penalties include a $30,000 fine, a postseason ban this season for several sports, reduced scholarships, three years probation, and public reprimand and censure.

So those Alaska Airlines Governor’s Cup Series victories over the University of Alaska Anchorage in 2010 and 2011? Didn’t happen.

WC isn’t a huge fan of college sports, but at the University of Alaska’s level the kids play for love of the game, and the athletic scholarships usually mean a degree. In an earlier century, WC taught at UAF and some his best and brightest students were student athletes. There’s no reason to think it’s different now. Which makes it a shame that the student athletes affected by these sanctions get besmirched for the omissions of the UAF Athletic Department.

WC’s buddy, Chancellor Brian Rogers, manfullly threw himself on his sword. Again. That’s got to be getting old.

Next, we get to watch the Alaska Legislature slice another few pounds of muscle off the University system, just because.

Here’s to a better next week and better times for the University.