Friday Focus: The privilege and responsibility to make decisions

July 31, 2020

Tori Tragis

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

— by Dan White, chancellor

What an interesting and anxious time to be alive, each of us with our own context, our own worldview, shaped by our history and experiences, dropped into the middle of this pandemic. Well before COVID, each of us had our own needs to meet, stresses and strains as well as our unique hopes and desires. In the middle of all that is going on, we have decisions to make in our personal and professional lives. Little decisions and big ones. Decisions that need to be made now and those that have time. But even with those that have time, they have to be made, with as much information as we can reasonably acquire. In the end, however, we will have to accept the fact that we cannot possibly have all the information, and all decisions have uncertainty associated with them. 

With the exception of a select few of our elders who surpass the 102-year-old mark, this is our first global pandemic. We are in new territory, and the decisions we make now are based on a continually evolving mix of information. As the information changes, we must and will change too.

Just as university leaders, faculty and staff make decisions, students must make decisions, too. And although they have many options to choose from, thousands of students chose UAF.  On top of that, in this COVID-19 time they have more decisions to make. For example, we have asked that all students who require housing attest to that fact and sign a compact with the university. The attestation they make is that their housing requirement is based on one of the following justifications: unsafe learning environment off campus, no permanent residence, inadequate connectivity to distance education, essential student employment on campus, taking required in-person courses, or living off campus would create a barrier to their academic success as a student. 

That compact represents a shared decision. While some universities are closing residence halls, UAF decided that we would open at reduced capacity for students who need on-campus housing. But the students who want to live on campus must decide that the compact is something they are willing to live with. The compact includes a commitment to our face covering policy and Residence Life’s visitor restrictions policy. And there are consequences to breaking that compact. 

Nonresidential students will also be asked to make a pledge to follow UAF safety protocols and to commit to the five things they can do to keep Nanook Nation healthy: wash hands, wear a mask, stay 6 feet apart, cover coughs and stay home when sick. I would encourage you to make the same pledge to yourself where they apply to you and your activities at UAF.

Faculty are also having to make decisions. We asked faculty to decide how to offer their courses this semester, entirely by distance or with some amount of face-to-face instruction. In order to offer a course with a face-to-face component, faculty must attest that this is the only way that student learning outcomes can be easily met. Many faculty did this, and in doing so, committed to their students a learning environment that they feel optimizes student outcomes. Those faculty members chose to work through the issues that we will face in this extra careful COVID-19 environment.

The freedom to make decisions is for each of us a privilege. As I think about mine, I think about our mission at UAF, our employees and the thousands of students who desire an education. I also think about a generation whose education has been interrupted by COVID-19, for some in irreparable ways. One thing that can never be taken away, however, is an education. Once you have it, your education will be with you forever. I want to know that we made the best decisions we could, and where possible, we granted others the gift of education. 

Thank you for your commitment to keeping yourself healthy during this COVID time. Thank you for your commitment to wearing your face mask and protecting the health of those around you. Thank you for your pledge to yourself and to us.

Thank you for choosing UAF.

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