Convocation 2009

(9/15/09)

Good afternoon everyone, and welcome to convocation 2009.

Faculty, students, staff, and alumni, thank you for coming to Davis Concert Hall today. I would like to welcome those who are participating from our rural sites and elsewhere via audio conference or streamed audio.

Community members who have come to campus today, thank you. This is your campus too, and I am always happy to have you visit us.
 
I would like to begin by recognizing UAF’s three governance leaders --- Faculty Senate President Jonathan Dehn, Staff Council President Martin Klein, and ASUAF President Adrian Triebel. As we all know, university governance is a shared responsibility, and I will continue to work with all three governance groups and their leadership.
 
Last year’s convocation focused on the transition process. We have successfully completed many of the near-term recommendations that I highlighted. It’s time now to look further ahead and with a longer term view. When I stood on this stage last year, I was serving as your interim chancellor. Thanks to the efforts of the faculty senate and others, my position is no longer "interim."
 
When President Hamilton offered me the permanent position, he told me he would shortly announce his retirement. I knew when I accepted the permanent position as chancellor that the presidency would be coming open. If I had any intent of applying for the university presidency, I would not have accepted this job. I want all of you to know that my focus and dedication are right here at Alaska’s first university --- the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
 
This year’s convocation theme is about sustainability, and not just in the ecological sense. Wikipedia talks about sustainability as the capacity to endure. In higher education, we have enduring values like freedom of inquiry, freedom of speech, independence of scientific research and creative activity, tolerance of dissent, and respect for diversity. These sustain our academic enterprise.
 
I want to talk for a moment about freedom of speech. There is a banner hanging in the Wood Center today that many of us find offensive. Some of you have asked that it be removed. I disagree with the banner, but I also disagree with those who would remove it. The university community must be one where we protect the freedom to speak, even when we find the speech disagreeable.
 
I am committed to a welcoming and inclusive university. It is important to me that it is a community where people feel safe and able to pursue their academic goals. I know there are times this campus does not feel welcoming, inclusive or safe. I want to change that. For those in this community who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, I am sorry that there are people who are intolerant of who you are. It disturbs me that public discourse on this, and other issues, is becoming so intolerant and offensive.
 
As an educational center, it is important that we offer opportunities to learn in, and out, of the classroom. It’s hard to teach tolerance, but I hope we can learn it. I ask all who care about these issues to work to overcome intolerance, and to be welcoming and affirming to all members of our academic community.
 
We've certainly sustained the vision of an Alaska higher education institution through some challenging times since the cornerstone was laid in 1915 and we were established as the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines in 1917. As we near the 100-year mark, it’s time to think about what will sustain this institution for our second hundred years.
The ecological aspects of sustainability are important across UAF, and you’ll hear today from a few people who are doing their best to make this campus – and all of our UAF activities throughout the state – more sustainable.
 
We’ve made some progress, but there is much more we could do. The College Sustainability 2009 Report Card gave UAF an overall grade of a C-. While that is a passing grade, and an improvement over last year’s score, I don’t think it fully recognizes what we have done here. Our sister school in southcentral Alaska received a C+, and I know we can top them. With that, let me issue a challenge to the entire UAF community that we do everything we can to come out on top next year. Let’s go beyond winning the governor’s cup in hockey this year to win what I would dub the “sustainability cup” – by achieving a higher sustainability score on the Report Card.
 
UAF endures because we are sustained by students, faculty, staff, and alumni, who practice community engagement, academic excellence, and scholarly research and creative activity. 
 
I would like to talk about each of these topics. Let me start with the reason we have a university in the first place – the students.
 
I’d like to introduce one of our Honors Program students, Molly Dischner.
 
VIDEO OF MOLLY DISCHNER ON WHAT SUSTAINABILITY MEANS TO HER

Thank you Molly. Molly is one of the first recipients of the chancellor’s sustainability tuition waiver, which she received in part from her leadership role on the Honors House retrofit. While Molly received the award, she was not alone in her endeavor, so I would like to have all of the students who are in the Honors Program at UAF to stand and be recognized. Thank you for being such a dynamic part of UAF’s student body.

I know the Honors Program wants me to include a plug for their involvement with this Saturday’s International Talk Like a Pirate Day, which will feature a visit to UAF and a live radio show on KSUA with the co-founder of International Talk Like a Pirate Day. If you’re interested, check it out.

Honors Program students aren’t the only ones doing something about sustainability. In fact, the student body as a whole deserves recognition for voting in a $20 per semester student fee to support sustainability efforts on UAF’s Fairbanks campus. If there is one single act that can help us raise our grade on the College Sustainability Report Card, it’s their decision.

Our students continue to accept new and exciting challenges. A recent example took place this summer when three journalism students, with faculty member Brian O’Donoghue, spent most of August in Iraq as embedded reporters. As a former journalist, I can tell you that the students did a fantastic job. If you didn’t follow their work, I encourage you to visit their blog at shorttimers.blogspot.com.

Retrofitting the Honors House and working as reporters in a war zone demonstrate the importance of  out-of-classroom activities to expanding college students’ experiences. As chancellor, I am committed to enhancing those opportunities whenever possible – I tell our students to “go away” – to get experience with national or international exchange through our many partners, including the University of the Arctic.

Good student opportunities don’t have to be academic in nature. I asked student services staff to look for new indoor and outdoor recreation opportunities for students. We are about to install a 21-hole disc golf course that will cover the entire Fairbanks campus.

Now, playing frisbee golf isn’t something a student can add to his or her resume, but enhancements like this can help with recruitment and retention efforts. I would like all of us to keep thinking about what we can do to enhance student life at all of UAF’s campuses – we should be able to make a difference each and every year.

We have a responsibility to provide our students with an excellent academic experience. One way others measure our excellence is through the institutional accreditation process.

Institutional accreditation, a peer-based quality control process, ensures students can transfer credits among institutions and makes UAF eligible to offer students federal student financial aid.

The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, our accreditation body, significantly changed the process from an every 10 year event to a seven year continuous reporting process. During this first cycle, UAF must complete the seven year process in the next two years, beginning with a self-study now and culminating in a site visit in 2011.  While this will add some new intensity, we enter with many strengths and expect positive results. You can support the reaffirmation of accreditation by responding to requests for information about your unit and UAF generally. I want to recognize thank Vice Provost Dana Thomas for his work as UAF’s lead accreditation officer.

It is exciting to see the growth in enrollment at UAF this year. Both the College of Engineering and Mines and the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences --- schools that are among the best in the country at what they offer --- are seeing record enrollments this year.

The School of Education, which has an important task of educating today’s students to be Alaska’s teachers of tomorrow, has seen a huge influx of new students. And programs that are important to our workforce development mission, such as the Tanana Valley CampusAviation Maintenance Technology program, are enrolling more students than ever before.

And at the departmental level, many of you are seeing rapid increases and record enrollments – Music, to pick just one, is seeing a big jump in both graduate and undergraduate enrollments.

It’s early in the registration process for our rural campuses, but we’re seeing more students at most of our campuses.

The Indigenous Studies program, approved by the Board of Regents in April, has started off with nine PhD students. Developed in collaboration with several Alaska Native groups, the program aims to increase the number of Alaska Natives with advanced degrees. A related goal is to advance knowledge and scholarship on subjects important to Alaska Native people and communities.

UAF’s commitment to the Native people of Alaska forms a very important part of our academic mission. The main campus occupies land that was called Troth Yeddha’ (wild potato hill) by the Tanana Athabascans. The late Chief Peter John of Minto once described Troth Yeddha’ as “a place where good thinking and working together would happen.”

We are living up to that descriptor – examples of “good thinking and working together” flourish throughout UAF, in pre-college outreach programs such as RAHI, research units like the Center for Alaska Native Health Research, and academic programs such as Alaska Native and Rural Development.

The College of Rural and Community Development is a leader in those efforts, with four community campuses in Nome, Kotzebue, Dillingham and Bethel and the learning centers through the Interior Aleutians Campus. I want to thank Vice Chancellor for Rural, Community and Native EducationBernice Joseph and all faculty and staff within CRCD in helping us make sure that Alaska’s first university is here for Alaska’s first people.

I also see growth in our reputation for academic excellence in our pre-college programs. Our nationally recognized Alaska Summer Research Academy, now in its 9th year, saw a record 146 students in grades 8-12 come to campus this summer. The Rural Alaska Honors Institute, a program that has been the pride and joy of UAF for 27 years, enrolled a record number of students this year.

One of the reasons we are seeing significant enrollment growth is the excellent reputation our faculty members have earned. Great faculty members like Terry Chapin.

Terry is one of the nation’s leading ecologists, Alaska’s first elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, and one of UAF’s leading research faculty members. 

In the book “A University for the 21st Century”, which is required reading at UAF’s Academic Leadership Institute, author James Duderstadt has this to say about the importance of faculty at a university:

“The principal academic resource of a university is its faculty. The quality and commitment of the faculty determine the excellence of the academic programs of a university, the quality of its student body, the excellence of its teaching and scholarship, its capacity to serve broader society through public service, and the resources it is able to attract from public and private sources.”

I couldn’t agree more. Our faculty team at UAF, roughly 650 full-time and 350 part-time members strong, covers a diversity of academic programs ranging from culinary arts to wildlife biology. Many, like Terry Chapin, are actively involved in research areas that make our communities and state a better place in which to live.

Each year we recognize recipients of the prestigious Emil Usibelli Distinguished Teaching, Service and Research Awards.

For 2009 awards, we have the following three recipients:

Rich Seifert and John Walsh could not be here today for exactly the reasons they are being honored – Rich is serving the public and John Walsh is conducting research. Since there is no class to teach during this hour on campus, John Fox could be here, so I would like him to stand and be recognized.

The Faculty Senate this year will be working on UAF’s core curriculum. This effort is fundamental to our instructional efforts. We need to define what Alaska’s students need from liberal education in the 21st century. Of course they need core understanding of English, the humanities and the sciences. But how do we ensure understanding of the necessity of civic engagement, the principles of sustainability, or how Americans function in the international community? I look forward to the dialogue on these issues, and urge the faculty who are here or online to take the time to engage in this process. We will be thinking about how to build these and other topics into the proposed freshman seminar, an opportunity for students and faculty to delve deeply into topics of common interest.

UAF is sustained by engagement with our communities.

When we talk about community engagement at UAF, we are really talking about all Alaska’s communities. An important part of our mission can be found in our name, and the fact that we are the University of ALASKA Fairbanks. We are proud to call Fairbanks our home base, but it is important to realize that the presence and impact of UAF, more than any other university in the state, can be found throughout all Alaska. It’s particularly important that those of us based in Fairbanks recognize the importance of engaging the entire state – that while we engage in Fairbanks, we not focus only on this campus or this community.

The Alaska Cooperative Extension Service is one of those reasons we have such a statewide reach. As the gateway to the university system, CES serves some 60,000 Alaskans annually, providing a link between Alaska’s diverse people and communities by interpreting and extending relevant university, research-based knowledge in an understandable and usable form.

I view CES as a leader in UAF’s community engagement efforts, and am very excited with their new direction. I would like to ask one of the newest members of the UAF family, Fred Schlutt, the director of CES and vice provost for extension and outreach, to stand and be recognized. You’ll be seeing a lot of him.

UAF is also stepping up its economic development efforts. Retired faculty member Paul McCarthy has done a great job uncovering opportunities to link UAF research with business opportunities. I’ve worked with local mayors to see how we can partner to leverage UAF research into the private sector. The School of Management has appointed Professor Jim Collins as the new director of entrepreneurship, and we are working to identify other ways UAF can be an engine of local and state economic growth and prosperity.

When I think about community engagement at UAF, the University of Alaska Museum of the North certainly comes to mind. Two days ago the museum hosted a retirement party for Director Aldona Jonaitis, who, during her 15 years at the helm, led the museum through dramatic growth both in facilities and in programs. Please help me recognize and thank Aldona for her service and leadership.

I want to talk a little about KUAC. The budget challenges at our public radio and television stations are widely known on campus and in this community. As chancellor I have added significant financial support to help sustain this important part of our mission.

KUAC faces similar challenges to those at public broadcasting stations across the state and across the country. Last year the general managers of the state’s three largest public broadcasters, including KUAC, looked at possible ways to transform public media in the state. They released a consulting report from that effort in July. We are now collecting feedback on the report from the community KUAC serves.

While I have not been convinced that their consultant has all the right answers, I am certain we need to strengthen the relationship between KUAC and the university’s academic and research programs. For the university to support public broadcasting here, and not in Southeast or Southcentral Alaska, there must be a close connection to academic programs and extension of our research and scholarship. I think there is real untapped potential in KUAC partnerships with academic departments, schools and colleges. We will be working to support KUAC’s critical role at UAF in the months to come.

Many of you know I asked Terry MacTaggart, the former chancellor of the University of Maine system and a consultant for many universities and systems, to look at UAF’s executive administration and to make recommendations. 

While his focus was on administration and opportunities for efficiencies and cost savings, he said UAF’s opportunity to better connect research and instruction came loud and clear. He suggests UAF has a great opportunity to emerge as one of the nation’s best student oriented research universities.

His report (PDF) says we need to identify ways to leverage the university’s cutting edge research to strengthen the institution as a whole, and I agree.

UAF leads in research in two ways. First, we conduct world-class research.

This is particularly true for high-latitude research that takes advantage of our unique location and our superb researchers. That we would be a leader in research pertaining to the Far North is by no means a new thought for UAF. The founders of our college, Judge James Wickersham and President Charles Bunnell, shared a vision that Alaska’s university should be a center of research about Alaska.

Wickersham and Bunnell could not have predicted that UAF would work on some of the today’s biggest world challenges, including climate change, biomedicine and energy.

UAF has the opportunity to lead in student involvement in research, particularly at the undergraduate level. We need to continue to find ways to link university research and creative activity to students and student success, in all areas.

Integration of research and teaching involves more than just linking students to researchers. It’s a culture that we all need to embrace, blending Fairbanks’ West Ridge and lower campus cultures. Remember, at the end of the day, we are all in this together – a group of instructional and research faculty, students and staff, all in search of a better parking space.

We have some staff making a sustainable difference. Jenny Day will talk about a few efforts.

If you want to see some of the vegetables the greenhouse is producing, Jenny will be at a table in the Great Hall after today’s convocation.

Staff like Jenny Day keep UAF functioning to meet our mission. From the crew operating our heat and power plant, to the admissions counselorsrecruiting new students (and as you heard from our numbers, doing a great job!), to the rural campus staff who often do three or four jobs in one, the ability for UAF to move ahead rests on the backs of close to 3,000 dedicated staff and student employees.

You may recall that during last year’s convocation I talked about how we need to put people first at UAF. I want to make sure we continue to do that. The family friendly task force is finishing its recommendations on how UAF as an employer can do a better job of recognizing the needs of employee’s families, particularly in child care but in other ways as well.

We put in place a supervisory training program that has seen tremendous success. I’m confident this program will make a difference as we identify other areas of training and professional development for employees and supervisors. We’re also getting ready to beef up our mediation services to employees as an alternative to the formal complaint or grievance process.

Employees also give back to the university in other areas. Last year, more than 530 employees collectively gave a quarter of a million dollars to UAF. This fall we will be launching a new employee-giving campaign. Keep an eye out for an email announcing the program. I encourage each of you to use this opportunity to support the UAF program, department, or scholarship of your choice – you can make the place where you study, work and live a better place for all.

Over the course of this summer, I’ve been shifting my focus from the shorter-term transition to thinking about where we are going in the coming years.

Earlier I mentioned the MacTaggart report. This external review affirms some existing priorities and provides suggestions for how we can better align UAF’s organization with our longer-term strategic plans.

The report, which is available online, carries five themes:

  • Leverage cutting-edge research to better advantage UAF;
  • Link our marketing efforts more closely with student recruitment and enrollment management
  •  Better organize and communicate the university’s work in distance education and e-learning
  •  Strengthen service to rural Alaska and its people;
  • And achieve greater administrative efficiency and improved resource allocation.

Dr. MacTaggart has thoughtfully considered past recommendations identified through our planning processes. He built his report what he heard in interviews with more than 40 staff, faculty, students, and community members. I’ve discussed the findings and recommendations with him at length and believe the report provides a good foundation for future action. Everything we do that simplifies our administrative processes and procedures, or that reduces costs, enhances opportunities to focus on sustaining our primary mission.

Over the next two months I will meet with governance groups and others to discuss the contents of the report and receive further input. I’ll keep you in the campus community informed of the process, and welcome your thoughts as we move forward.

I know there is intense interest about whether or how we will implement some of the recommendations. I am still listening to your views, and will make decisions in the near term. There will clearly continue to be change, as is natural at any institution, but speculation about what change will happen is premature and wastes your time and energy. I would far rather you use your efforts to help create the changes you want at UAF.

I also encourage you to read the forthcoming Vision 2017 implementation plan. Some of you will recall the work of the UAF Vision Task Force two years ago, formed to make recommendations on how UAF could position itself to become one of the world’s premier arctic research and teaching universities by 2017, when we will celebrate our 100th anniversary. We are now integrating the task force report with our Strategic Plan 2010, to concisely set clear targets and measurable outcomes for UAF’s future. This work also feeds the accreditation process.

I want to switch gears now and talk about our operating and capital budget priorities for next fiscal year. While the Board of Regents has yet to adopt an official university budget request to the Governor and Legislature, UAF’s priorities are clear in President Hamilton’s request to the board.

As you know, we were less than fully successful in last year’s requests. Our operating budget message for this year is pretty much the “same as last year” with only a few changes.

We will follow the top system priorities with a focus on funding:

  • The fixed costs of operating the university, including compensation, utilities, compliance and other increases;
  • Energy programs at the Alaska Center for Energy and Power and the Cooperative Extension Service, which are currently funded for a only single year;
  • Science, technology, engineering and math initiatives, including UAF’s Alaska Summer Research Academy, summer bridge programs, and physics and math support;
  •  Climate research and information, and sustainability initiatives, including the Marine Advisory Program;
  •  Meeting the educational needs for Alaska’s high demand jobs in teacher education, health, workforce programs, and engineering; and
  • Student success initiatives, with an emphasis on pre-college programs, student services managers for each of UAF’s rural campuses, honors and undergraduate research, and UAF’s indigenous studies program.

We will need your support, expressed to our legislative delegation, in order to get funding for these additions to our operating budget.

The capital budget is similar to last year’s, but somewhat smaller. And rightfully so. When the university asks for $541 million, and gets $3 million, the “laundry list” approach is clearly not working. And it doesn’t communicate our top priorities.

It is crucial that we receive adequate funding to address the growing backlog of deferred maintenance at all of our campuses. Being Alaska’s first university also means UAF is Alaska’s oldest university, and despite excellent maintenance efforts, age can be seen throughout campus in our classrooms, laboratories and residence halls.

It takes $50 million per year system-wide to keep the deferred maintenance list from growing. So that’s the top priority for the system, and for us.

Our top new construction priority, and the only new building on the president’s list, is the Life Science Innovation and Learning Facility. We made some headway on this project last year, as legislators across the state began to understand the importance to Alaska of research that will be accomplished in this building. They understood, but the state’s fiscal position forced a negative decision. There must be a different outcome this year.

We need the life sciences facility now because it will help us educate a new generation of Alaskans to solve Alaska’s challenges in biomedicine, neuroscience, and wildlife biology.

We need life sciences now because it will provide the critical space for Alaska-based biological research that we are ready to do now.

We need life sciences now because it represents the best of the best in research that benefits the entire state of Alaska.

So those are our top budget priorities. On the not-so-distant planning horizon is another big issue. Our Fairbanks campus combined heat and power plant, which provides the campus with heat, cooling, and electric power, is more than 40 years old, with a design capacity of 50 years.

While it has proven to be exceptionally reliable, safe and efficient since it first began operations, we need a major plant renovation or replacement in the next five to seven years.

As the only source of heat for most of campus, and the primary source of electric power, a central plant failure could stop all campus business, and, quite literally, leave us freezing in the dark.

[LIGHTS OFF FOR 2 SECONDS]

Fortunately, that was just for show. One of the reasons we do such a good job of keeping our lights on at UAF is because of our excellent facilities services crew. Unfortunately they are going to lose a person who has been their leader for 11 years now, and that is Kathleen Schedler, Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities and Safety. Kathleen is retiring in December, and I would like to thank her for her dedication and years of service.

There are few options for heat and power on the Fairbanks campus, and we need to move fairly rapidly. The only option not on the table is to do nothing.

There are other capital needs for UAF, and we’re working on public-private partnerships and fundraising to support the Energy Technology Research Building and considering private alternatives to address our needs for student housing. Even in tight budget times, we need to move forward on our priorities.

As you can see from the UAF map, we are a complex university, unlike any other in the country. We are complex in our mission, our geography, and our support structure. Too often, this complexity negatively impacts the decisions we must make. Yet through our nearly one hundred years, we have been able to sustain our mission and to succeed.

The new issue of the UAF magazine “Aurora” just came out, and within it are two examples of people enduring – sustaining themselves through the types of challenges that most us are unlikely to experience.

The first is a story on the Center for Alaska Native Health Research’s Elluam Tungiinun [HTH-lom TOO-neeng-nung] program, a project that teaches Alaska Native teens and their families how to protect themselves against suicide and substance abuse using knowledge gleaned from healthy Alaska Natives. After eight suicides in a year and a half, the village of Alakanuk was one of the first Alaska Native communities to sign up for the research program and the only one that agreed to go public about their involvement.

The second story is a profile on Alaska Nanooks rifle coach Dan Jordan, who was paralyzed from the waist down in a climbing accident in May 1999. Dan is one of the most positive people you will find on this campus – in fact, he’s president of the Fairbanks Optimist club. Over the years he has not let his accident slow him down, as he has gone on to hunt moose, ride four-wheelers and snow machines, build a house, and – of course – coach the Nanook rifle team to three consecutive national championships.

Part of UAF’s approach to sustaining and enduring involves adapting technology and investing in social media. Finding out what is happening at UAF has never been easier, thanks to examples such as:

…our official University of Alaska Fairbanks Facebook site, with 1,309 fans (as of this morning) and growing daily…

…a soon to be released UAF iTunesU site, which will allow students to download podcasts of class lectures and community members to download podcasts of public lectures…

…and a recently released Alaska Nanooks Twitter site, so you can keep up on the scores of your favorite Nanooks sports team.

If you prefer communicating face to face rather than on Facebook, that’s the nice thing about our campuses. One of the best parts of my job is getting out and about across the Fairbanks and Tanana Valley campuses, and to our rural campuses, to talk one on one with students, faculty and staff. It’s these conversations that help me the most with my job as chancellor, and I always appreciate those opportunities to meet with you.

It takes all of us to sustain UAF, to meet our commitments to students, and to the state and communities that support us, and to meet our mission. In closing, thanks to all of you for all that you do to sustain UAF. I am excited about our journey.

I will take a few questions, but I do want to remind people both here in Fairbanks and at the rural sites that there is ice cream awaiting us all. I don’t want that to impact the number of questions I take, but remember – ice cream does not have the capacity to endure. It melts.

 Thank you for joining me here and by audio and web conference today. I’ll begin with a question from here in Fairbanks – those on audio or online can email questions to convocation@alaska.edu , and if we don’t have time to answer them all here, we’ll post answers on the Grapevine.

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