Friday Focus: A better budget through understanding

May 28, 2021

Tori Tragis

Chancellor Dan White. UAF photo by JR Ancheta.
Chancellor Dan White. UAF photo by JR Ancheta.

— by Dan White, chancellor

By my observation there is an amazing need for empathy and understanding in today’s world. And we all need it. The need is not exclusive to color, culture, gender expression, national origin or political belief. The need is human, and last time I checked, we humans are all human. Well, don’t ask my teenagers about me but I can assure you that I’m human too. Unfortunately, as humans it also appears far easier to dismiss different people and ideas than it is to understand them. Maybe it is simple economics. Time is money and it takes less time to dismiss than to understand.

In a recent engagement I observed, I was struck by the speed at which those involved dismissed each others’ perspectives. Economically, it was fantastically successful. It took no time at all. But I am certain that in a true economic sense the engagement was an unmitigated disaster. It caused a great deal more inefficiency due to hurt feelings and wounded relationships than the time the quick dismissal saved. The dismissal saved time that might have been “spent” saying, “I don’t understand what you mean, tell me more.” It did, however, add to our balance sheet as an entry in the line for speculation, distrust and frustration. On balance, the economics of more communication would have helped our bottom line.

One other thing that came to my mind in this observed interaction was how could a dismissal have been arrived at so quickly? It was just seconds. That’s just not much time. It was surely informed by previous experience. Wounds from past engagements, baggage that just came in handy right then. It allowed the parties to not think too much but simply react based on their history with the people involved. To reach a conclusion without any inquiry or understanding at all. We can do better.

In a previous Friday Focus (August 28, 2020) I talked about the need to look forward, not backward. You can’t see where you are going if you’re looking backward. It is also hard to see where you are going if you are covered up with baggage. In the interest of living in a belonging university, I ask us each to set our bags down, look forward, seek to understand, and be part of this great belonging university. Setting down our baggage will enable us to stay a while, debate important subjects, and deliberate on the best ways to reach our strategic goals. It will have the added bonus of being smart from an economics standpoint - good for our bottom line and good for us humans.

While walking around campus I see more and more people walking together, playing frisbee golf, sitting in the sun or sharing a bench at one of our many picnic tables. It is refreshing and inviting. Music in the Garden kicked off last night and the UAF community is engaging at an increasing rate. All of this engagement is building understanding, trust and good economics. As we enter this holiday weekend, I encourage you to look forward to all of the opportunities ahead. Find a bench and some sunshine and enjoy the day (though if you are in Fairbanks you might bring a jacket!). Happy Friday!

Friday Focus is a column written by a different member of UAF’s leadership team every week. On occasion, a guest writer is invited to contribute a column.