Convocation 2010

(9/9/10)

I. WELCOMING REMARKS

Good afternoon everyone.

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

Community members who came to campus today, thank you. This is your campus too, and I am always happy to have you visit us. And I hope you were able to find a parking space.

I would like to begin by recognizing UAF's three governance leaders ---

University governance is a shared responsibility, and I will continue to work with all three governance groups and their leadership.

Also in attendance is student regent Ashton Compton and a former student regent and new assistant to the chancellor, Derek Miller.

Next, I would like to recognize the recipients of the 2010 Emil Usibelli Awards for Teaching, Research and Service. They are Dr. Richard Boone (teaching), Dr. Thomas Weingartner (research) and Dr. Kara Nance (service). These awards recognize the best of what we do at UAF.

Next, I would like to recognize Dirk Tordoff, recipient of the 2010 Edith R. Bullock Prize for Excellence, the top UA-wide honor. Dirk is head of the Alaska Film Archives at the Rasmuson Library, and throughout today's convocation you will see some examples of archival film footage from UAF, some of it dating back to the 1930s. Dirk doesn't like the limelight, but he does like the result of the limelight, which is why we're featuring film from his archive.

Also in attendance today is the president of the UAF Alumni Association Board of Directors, Randy Pitney.

We should recognize today as Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and a day of rest, which means some of our faculty, staff and students are unable to attend.   It's also the last day of Ramadan, a high holy day for Muslims.

I also know that many of our staff who work in student services are unable to attend because they are helping students with the beginning of the semester. I thank them for their dedication.

The theme of this year's convocation is "Learning from the Past, Preparing for the Future."

The 100th anniversary of the university is in 2017. Our centennial celebrations will begin in 2015, when we celebrate the laying of the cornerstone on July 4, 1915.  

As we look to our centennial, we have challenging times ahead. In the next five years, we will deal with uncertainties in state and federal funding, rising fixed costs, and an aging campus infrastructure.

Looking back through our history, we can find numerous examples of how we have taken on and survived challenges. If "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger", we are a stronger university.

As Professor Terrence Cole writes in his excellent book "The Cornerstone on College Hill":

"The history of UAF commemorates the colorful past of one of America's most unusual educational institutions. What began in September 1922 as a small mining town's tiny college (with only six students, six professors, a secretary, a maintenance man and an administrator) has grown into a modern state university. It is recognized for its excellence in research and teaching, and is the cornerstone of the University of Alaska System.

"What the frontier college may have lacked in the way of ivy-covered walls and distinguished scholars, it made up for in greater personal attention to students and greater individual freedom. Throughout its history, Alaska --- and its' oldest university --- have attracted fortune hunters, adventure seekers, oddballs and restless souls who could not or would not fit in elsewhere."

Now UAF still attracts our fair share of fortune hunters, adventure seekers, oddballs and restless souls.   Back then, they were telling their stories around the campfire; today they tell their stories by way of Facebook and Twitter.

Within the eclectic mix of individuals who make their way to UAF --- and as someone who came here 40 years ago as a student I put myself in that mix --- you'll find, as we always have done, people who are passionate and dedicated to our university. It's that passion and dedication that has helped UAF weather difficult times; we will tap into it in the future.

Welcome to convocation 2010.

II. ACCREDITATION: Preparing for our academic future

When the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines first opened its doors, it wasn't accredited. That wouldn't happen until 1934. But I'm certain that President Bunnell ensured that the education provided through the college's five major fields of study met acceptable levels of quality --- which is the overall goal of institutional accreditation.

The process of accreditation, which we are currently undergoing, is an important one for us as a university. The institutional accreditation process is mandated by the U.S. Department of Education and is implemented by regional accrediting commissions. We must be accredited for students to receive federal financial aid and for UAF to receive other types of federal funding.

More importantly, the self-study that is the core of the accreditation process encourages us to assess how well we are fulfilling our mission and to use this information to improve. The essential elements of UAF's mission can be found in the five themes:

Educate:Undergraduate and graduate students

Discover:Through research, scholarship and creative activity including an emphasis on the north and its peoples

Prepare:Alaska's career, technical, and professional workforce

Connect:Alaska's Native, rural and urban communities through contemporary and traditional knowledge

Engage:Alaskans via lifelong learning, outreach and community and economic development

These themes define us as an institution. They tell the story of the university that we are and the university we intend to be.

An evaluation team will visit UAF in October next year. To prepare for the visit, we need complete outcome assessment plans and summaries for every academic and vocational program and the core curriculum. In addition, all academic programs will undergo an abbreviated program review process this year to better prepare us for the evaluation visit.

The final questions we are asked in the accreditation cycle are about mission fulfillment, adaptation, and sustainability.  

  • How do we assess our accomplishments, and how do we communicate our conclusions about our mission to constituencies?
  • How do we evaluate the adequacy of resources to fulfill the mission?
  • How do we use the results of our cycle of planning, practices, resource allocation, capacity and assessment to improve ourselves?
  • How do we define our future direction, and sustain ourselves and our mission?

A key measure of how we can sustain ourselves, and how we adapt to change, is our budget process and fiscal environment. Our revenues and finances will be driven by the students we serve and by our research vitality.

Our best opportunity to deal with budget challenges is to increase the size of our student enrollments. The economic woes of other state universities, especially in the Pacific Northwest, open the door for us to attract Lower 48 students. And although we have seen increases over the years, there is tremendous opportunity to tap into the international student market. Closer to home, we have yet to figure out how to attract students from southcentral Alaska, where a majority of Alaska high school students are.

How can we grow? We can do so by emphasizing the quality of what we offer. We stake our claim as a premiere student-focused research university.

UAF is Alaska's STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) university, and we should carry that flag proudly. At the same time, we cannot and will not dismiss the important value of a liberal education. We have a responsibility to prepare our students for the future.

Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek, said this about the importance of a liberal education in the 21st century:

"It is just possible, though, that the traditional understanding of the liberal arts may help us in our search for new innovation and new competitiveness. The next chapter of the nation's economic life could well be written not only by engineers but by entrepreneurs who, as products of an apparently disparate education, have formed a habit of mind that enables them to connect ideas that might otherwise have gone unconnected. As Alan Brinkley, the historian and former provost of Columbia, has argued in our pages, liberal education is a crucial element in the creation of wealth, jobs, and, one hopes, a fairer and more just nation."

The liberal education we offer at UAF must teach students to think, to adapt, to use logic, understand the value of civic engagement, to understand our role in the global environment, and much more. It is just as important as what we offer in the areas of workforce development and career enhancement, and just as important as our scientific research.

Our students are changing the way they interact with the university. This semester we once again see significant enrollment increases in distance and online courses.  

The Center for Distance Education is now UAF's fourth largest unit in student credit hours, after the College of Liberal Arts, the UAF Community and Technical College, and the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. Thirty percent of UAF students take courses through CDE, and more take distant and online courses through rural campuses and Fairbanks schools and colleges.

It's clear that our student market is shifting. If we do not choose to embrace this change, our students will choose other universities. It would be unwise for UAF schools and colleges to ignore these realities, even if we do need to address some internal organizational issues. I recognize that not all faculty members embrace the use of online and other technologies to enhance the teaching and learning experience, and recognize that not all courses can be taught via distance. But if we don't adapt to the extent possible, our students will go elsewhere and our opportunities will be limited.

UAF is growing. As an institution, as of yesterday, our Fall Semester headcount and student credit hours are up three and a half percent over last year. But the growth is uneven; our two largest colleges at the Fairbanks campus, CLA and CNSM are experiencing modest enrollment declines.

Based on registration to date, our biggest increases in enrollment, as measured by student credit hours, are at the UAF Community and Technical College, CDE, and the School of Management with the biggest percentage changes in headcount and student credit hours since last year at the Northwest Campus, the School of Management, and the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.

UAF isn't just about numbers - we care about the quality of our programs. But we have to pay attention to the student numbers to survive in today's economy.

III. PRIORITIZATION: Preparing for our strategic future

We've weathered some tough times financially over the years, none more so than 1947 when what was then the University of Alaska was on the verge of bankruptcy. The general collapse of the territorial government's fiscal structure was to blame, and efforts to secure adequate funding from the capitol were less than successful.

In memoirs published years later, Governor Ernest Gruening charged that due to legislative neglect, "the university was a shabby, rundown, inadequate plant staffed by wretchedly underpaid faculty." It got so bad that on November 1st, 1947, the University of Alaska's total available cash balance was exactly $1,104.09. Thankfully, community business leaders rallied in support of the university, and life on the Hill continued.

Though we are facing some challenging times today, it is nowhere close to what other state university systems are facing. The U.S. is seeing a dramatic decline in public support for higher education, a decline that thankfully we haven't seen here yet.

Our legislature has been much more generous. For this fiscal year the University of Alaska system received a 3.9 percent increase in state general fund dollars. Of the UA system total, UAF received a 5 million dollar increase. Our challenge for this fiscal year was that our non-general funds --- funds that come in through tuition, research grants and contracts, auxiliaries and indirect cost recovery --- have not been rising at the same rate as fixed cost increases. To meet the gap this year, and to address other structural budget problems we redistributed 5.5 million dollars to meet existing obligations on the UAF campus and an additional $676,000 within the College of Rural and Community Development.

I wanted to be sure the process was a highly transparent one. All of the information on the pullback and redistribution is available on the web. I encourage you to take a look at the site and the information provided, and if you have questions or comments, please submit them to the feedback form on the site.

The result of that reallocation is that UAF is in stable financial condition moving forward. Our current budget is balanced, without unfunded obligations into the future.

But we cannot stop examining what we do. We are currently conducting an in-depth review of administrative and support functions to look for efficiencies. This will be followed by taking a close look at academic and research programs. Our long-term strategy is to share budget information with academic, research and administrative departments so the university can continue to serve our core mission while strategically positioning ourselves for the future.

In August we submitted our FY12 operating and capital budget request to statewide for consideration. We're early in the process, and the Board of Regents gets its first review of the budget at its meeting in Juneau later this month.

President Gamble indicates that the university is likely to receive flat funding for next year. There are just too many uncertainties - the price of oil, the amount of oil flowing through the pipeline, the national economy and federal fiscal environment, and political changes at the state and federal levels. What this means is that there will likely be no new programs or program growth unless we can fund them internally, either through enrollment growth or more reallocations.

On the research side, we are going to have to earn our way to growth. We've benefited over the years through Alaska's seniority in Washington. With the loss of Senator Stevens, who was a tremendous champion of the university, and the primary upset of Senator Murkowski, Alaska no longer has the same appropriations clout. For us, earmarks are a thing of the past, so we will have to compete for federal funding, now more than ever. Fortunately, we have competitive faculty – some of the best there are in our fields of expertise.

I'm confident we can continue to grow UAF's research enterprise, especially by building our research strengths of energy and engineering, climate change and biomedicine. These are the areas where we are gaining our greatest prominence, joining our traditional strengths in geophysics, fisheries and ocean sciences, and natural hazards. Our research efforts will continue to have significant impact on the people and state of Alaska, as well as the nation.

On the capital side, our top priority continues to be fixing what we have through funding of deferred maintenance, renewal and renovation. You might have noticed the buildings in the archival film footage looked rather familiar; that's because in most cases, they are the same buildings we have now.

It's likely there will be few new buildings on the UAF campuses in the next couple of years. The exceptions are the Energy Technology facility we are starting this year, and hopefully, the Life Sciences Classroom and Lab Building. Funding for that project, a University of Alaska priority for years now, is part of a statewide general obligation bond package that will go before voters in November.

At last year's convocation I stood before you and told you how important this project is for UAF. That message remains the same.

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.

You will be hearing more about the importance of the Life Sciences project in the weeks to come, leading up to the November election.

You will be hearing more about the importance of the Life Sciences project in the weeks to come, leading up to the November election.

UAF has an important role in supporting the development of the state and its economy. That's a key part of the land grant mission. Our research efforts can help set the stage for new sustainable economic development in Alaska, as well as finding better ways of developing our non-renewable resources.

Some examples of where we have been helping build the Alaska economy include:

  • The UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences is collaborating with the local business Homegrown Market to help make locally grown reindeer meat available for purchase.
     
  • A partnership between UAF and the Alaska Berry Growers and Alaska Blue is examining plant propagation and the nutraceutical properties of blueberries and other berries.  
     
  • A partnership between the UAF College of Liberal Arts and Denali – The Alaska Gas Pipeline helped provide training for Alaskans interested in working on the pipeline as archeological technicians.
     
  • The Cooperative Extension Service Thorne Bay program is working with island sawmill operators to turn wood waste into wood fuel, to heat the local school and government facilities.
     
  • The Alaska Center for Energy and Power is working with several utilities, land owners, and communities to quantify resources and assess options for geothermal development in several areas of the state. 

These are just a few examples of how throughout our rural campuses, schools, colleges and research units – UAF is taking our knowledge and expertise and applying it to real life problems that can make a difference for the state’s economy.

IV. TELLING OUR STORY

Every day as chancellor I learn of new things our faculty, students, staff and alumni are doing. We do make a difference - but we don't seem to want to brag about what we're doing.   We're not telling our story to Alaskans.

I ask you to help me tell our stories to the rest of the state and beyond. We have wonderful stories to tell about UAF, our faculty and student accomplishments, the roles our community campuses play in supporting their regions. Our problem, however, is that over the years our stories have often times been inconsistent, or they fail to recognize that UAF is more than the sum of its parts.

We are, altogether, from rural campuses to urban schools and colleges, and our research units, the University of Alaska Fairbanks. We are Alaska's first university and America's arctic university. That connection can be hard to see, though, as the following slide shows. People sometimes don't know when they are working with a UAF unit, especially when we don't show the flag. When we don't tell our stories as part of UAF, we lose the opportunity for people to see what a compelling story UAF is. When we don't hang together, well, you know the rest of that phrase.

Now is not the time for silos; it is the time for unity and solidarity, and coming together to tell the UAF story.

Here are some of our stories:

  • This year we welcomed our largest class of UA Scholars - 182 admitted from the class of 2010 and 35 from the class of 2009 who waited a year. I had a chance to meet some of them at a dinner Tuesday night, and what impressed both them and me was the geographic diversity. Our UA Scholars come from all over Alaska, from Seward and Anchorage, from Chevak and Shismaref, and of course from Fairbanks and North Pole. These new students are among Alaska's best and brightest - and the diversity shows the strength of the original UA Scholars idea – to accept the top ten percent from every high school in the state.
     
  • We are impacting and benefiting the lives and health of Alaskans. Dr. Bert Boyer at the Center for Alaska Native Health Research is investigating why Yup'ik Eskimos in southwest Alaska have such a low rate of diabetes, despite having levels of obesity that are similar to the general U.S. population. Dr. Boyer's research is giving scientific claim to the belief of Yup'ik Elders that their subsistence foods and lifestyle are truly beneficial from a health standpoint. It's a national-class story of community-based participatory research. And it's an example of where our research efforts directly affect a rural campus, with the construction of a new CANHR lab on the Kuskokwim Campus.
     
  •  You may recall last year we showed a video highlighting Jenny Day, landscape supervisor for facilities services. She was working to make our campus a more sustainable one by leading the way to grow our own produce. Well, that effort certainly hasn't slowed down. Last week we had a dinner with a major donor to the campus. With the exception of the salmon, all of the food served was grown and harvested right here on campus. The vegetables served to the UA Scholars on Tuesday night were grown on campus. And we have been providing locally grown produce to the Lola Tilly Commons, giving new meaning to the term "grow our own."
     
  •  Last year, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni looked at the nation's top universities to see what students were learning. They thought in today's economy, students need to know something about economics. But there were only two of the 100 that require economics to graduate. One is UAF. The other is West Point.
     
  • Our nationally recognized Student Investment Fund makes a difference for our graduates – one alum, Sam Enoka, who is now financing renewable energy and energy conservation efforts in San Francisco, and who is returning to UAF for a stint as “Entrepreneur in Residence,” says his experience with the Fund gave him an edge over his classmates in graduate school at Berkeley.  We take practical financial literacy seriously at UAF, and the success stories behind our endeavor keep adding up.
     
  • And our stories go beyond the classroom and the research labs, to the support functions like the UAF heat and power plant. You may recall that last year I talked about the critical need to replace our aging plant, and that remains a priority. We would be in far worse shape if we weren't so fortunate to have an outstanding crew, led by Chilkoot Ward, to keep it running well despite the plant's age. This summer the electricity on the Fairbanks campus went out for two hours due to a GVEA malfunction. Now, having a power outage is common enough in most places that there is not much of a story there, but it was a story for us because we never have outages on campus. The heat and power plant crew does a great job of making sure our faculty and students don't freeze in the dark.

These are just a few of the stories about UAF that we can tell. They're far better stories than those about troubles with registration, parking, or credit transfer. Others can, and will, tell their stories about what we do wrong, or what they think we do wrong. But few outside our community will tell the stories about what is right about UAF. That's up to us. I ask all of you to help tell the stories about what's right here, and how what we do benefits more than our students, faculty and staff - what we do benefits the communities we serve, the state and the nation.

V. ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND ACHIEVEMENTS

Convocation is not just about where we are now, and where we are going, but also about celebration. I want to take more time now to highlight just a few of the major accomplishments since I addressed you last year.

  • The School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences started construction of the research vessel Sikuliaq, which will be one of the most advanced university research vessels in the world.
     
  • UAF pianist Ilia Radoslavov took gold in the professional division at the Seattle International Piano Competition.
     
  • BP donated one million dollars to allow the Rasmuson Library to catalog and process more than 4,500 boxes of papers and media from the congressional career of U.S. Senator Ted Stevens.
     
  • UAF was listed in the top 11 of more than 10,000 institutions worldwide for number of citations in climate change publications; we were fourth among U.S. universities. UAF Professor Terry Chapin was listed first in number of individual citations.
     
  •  School of Management Native Alaskan Business Leaders took first place in the business plan competition at the American Indian Business Leaders 2010 National Business Leadership Conference.
     
  • The Alaska Nanooks hockey team competed for the first time ever in a NCAA Division I championship. And the combined GPA of all the Nanook athletes increased for the fifth year in a row, to 3.3.
     
  • UAF student journalists, for the second year in a row, claimed the Alaska Press Club’s prestigious Public Service Award.
     
  • We raised 6.9 million dollars in private fundraising, easily surpassing our goal of 5.6 million dollars.
     
  • We graduated our highest number of Alaska Native students and highest number of PhD recipients in UAF's history at our 2010 commencement ceremony.
     
  •  Student services established the UAF Office of Sustainability and hired Michelle Hebert as our first sustainability coordinator.
     
  • In Dillingham, the Bristol Bay Campus is actively engaged with sustainability. Students actually build an electric car working with faculty, and are working on applying the concept to four-wheelers.
     
  •  And unfortunately, some of our leading lights went out. Pictures of a few of them are on the screen behind me. I ask you to join me for a moment of silence to honor all the members of the UAF community who we lost - faculty, staff, alumni and honorary degree recipients - whose lives made a difference to us, and whom we will miss.

VI. CLOSING THOUGHTS/NEXT STEPS

When the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines opened its doors, Territorial Governor Scott Bone had this to say:

"The opening of this institution…is a potent sign of the times. It speaks progress. It tells the world that Alaska is going ahead. It proclaims, in its name, the fact that agriculture and mining are twin resources of this rich domain. It gives denial to the popular fiction that Alaska is a forbidding, frozen upheaval of ice and snow. It emphasizes the real Alaska.

 

Away off here, near the top of the world, the institution dedicated today occupies a unique position. It has no counterpart. It will command universal interest. It stands out in bright token of Alaska’s high aspiration. It will grow as Alaska is surely destined to grow."

Close to 100 years later that is still the case. The University of Alaska Fairbanks does occupy a unique position.

We have no counterpart.

We command universal interest.

And we stand out in bright token of Alaska's high aspiration.

In closing, my charge to you --- faculty, staff, and students --- is as follows.

For faculty, do what you do best. Continue to strive for excellence as you teach, conduct research and scholarly activity, and serve the public. Help UAF fulfill its Land Grant mission and our role in society by constantly looking to connect to the communities and the state we serve.

For staff, do what you do best. Support the faculty in carrying out our primary missions. Support the infrastructure of our university, whether that be making sure our parking lots are clear of snow, our finances are properly managed, or that our students are well served. To those of you who are supervisors, take that responsibility seriously; apply what you learn in supervisory training into your everyday management of staff.

For students, take advantage of how close you are to our faculty and staff. Learn from them. UAF offers life-changing educational experiences. Take advantage of the opportunities that exist outside of the classroom, because that is just as important for your overall education. From participating in Study Abroad or National Student Exchange programs, to getting involved with local sustainability efforts, there are many ways you can fulfill your potential while you're at UAF.

To all of you, I ask that you join me in leading this university towards our centennial. Tell our stories outside our walls.

Question decisions that don't make sense. Offer solutions to problems that you identify. Be an active member of your campus community.

For the last several years, we opened the floor for questions. Last year there were none. Maybe it's the ice cream waiting out there in the Great Hall, and at all of our rural locations. So this year, we are taking questions by email, and will answer on the Grapevine. And I will continue my practice of at least two open forums each semester, one here on the Fairbanks campus and one by audio for rural sites. I think the question and answer format works better in the smaller, open forum environment.

I want to close with a thank you to all of you for what you do make this university a great one.

Now let's go have some ice cream!

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