Friday Focus: Putting togetherness to work

January 29, 2021

Tori Tragis

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

— by Dan White, chancellor

Last week the UAA and UAS chancellors and I sent out a message to our respective university communities asking for togetherness in supporting President Pitney as she advocates in Juneau for UAF, UAA and UAS. Reported “infighting” between universities has long been used as justification for not funding university needs, or worse, cutting our budget. This year, as President Pitney seeks much-needed deferred maintenance relief for all three universities, we have the power to take away the infighting justification as a reason to not help us out. That’s a lot of power in a little togetherness. Easy.

The chancellors had a conversation this week about recruiting, and the perception that the universities unnecessarily consume state funding by “fighting” each other for students. We discussed messaging and the important role of individual and shared messaging. There are enough students in and out of Alaska to grow enrollment at all three universities. And importantly, UAF, UAA and UAS are different educational products. Students need and deserve this choice. And while there are a fixed number of students in Alaska, there is a world full of students who want to better their lives through higher education. Our fight is not with each other but with not going to college or going to any one of thousands of other universities across the nation. We are better fighting for each other. The unique position of being separately accredited universities in a common system gives us strength both in our differences and in our togetherness.

On Wednesday, UA BOR Chair Buretta and President Pitney hosted the kickoff meeting for the Board’s new Alaska Native Success Initiative. It was a powerful meeting with much testimony about the need for togetherness and belonging. It was sad to hear the magnitude of the need for togetherness but rewarding to hear the greatness of will to seize it. There were many examples given of discrimination, racism, ignorance and the corrosive effects of victim blaming. If someone feels that they cannot belong at UAF, how do we accomplish our mission? If someone goes missing from their educational pursuit, with their culture and story, we lose. We all lose.

Last Saturday a vigil was held to bring attention to missing persons. Although none of them are directly connected to UAF, it matters a great deal to us. Our faculty, staff and students are part of this community. And while missing persons have devastating impacts on everyone, they have disproportionately impacted the Alaska Native/American Indian community that we are part of and connected to. In a plea for help, one of the speakers said, “Someone knows, someone saw something.” Whether it was something at the time of the disappearance or something a day before, a week before or a year before, surely someone saw something.

During this time of COVID-19, when isolation is ever more prevalent, be alert, and be vigilant to your needs and those of others. Support each other. As different people, in different communities, and in different roles in the university, the value of togetherness will help build our case in Juneau, help recruit our students, help keep our students and employees in education, and help keep our community members safe.

It is never too early to help someone out. Make that someone who saw something be you. Better yet, be that person who did something to change the narrative. We are all better off together.

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.