Convocation 2008


I. Welcome and Introductions

Good afternoon everyone, and welcome to convocation 2008.

Staff, faculty, students, thank you for coming. I would like to welcome those who are participating from our rural sites via audio conference or streamed audio. 

Community members who have come to campus today, thank you.  I hope you will come visit us often.

I am excited to share with you my vision of where UAF needs to go, during the next two years while I serve as your interim chancellor.

I’d like to begin by introducing some people in the audience. First, I’d like to introduce my life partner and wife, UAF alumna Sherry Modrow. Her life also changed dramatically as we made the decision to serve as interim chancellor. I am blessed with her counsel and friendship.  We are a team that takes great pride in being able to contribute to this unique, incredible institution.  With our eldest son also a UAF graduate, for us UAF is not only a family affair, but a family passion.

Next, I would like to recognize UAF’s three governance leaders, --- Faculty Senate President Marsha Sousa, Staff Council President Juella Sparks, and ASUAF President Brandon Meston.  As we all know, university governance is a shared responsibility, and I look forward to working with all three governance groups and their leadership.

I’ll be talking in just a few minutes about this summer’s transition teams and the work they did to provide guidance for the next two years, but first I would like to recognize and thank Charles Fedullo for his work coordinating the efforts and Michael Walsh with the Foraker Group for his work chairing the transition team steering committee.

I’d also like to have anyone here who participated in the transition team process stand up and be recognized. Thank you for your efforts to help us grow and improve UAF.

This has been a great summer for me, as I came back to UAF.  Nearly four decades ago, I came to what was then the University of Alaska as a student. But this place had the effect on me then that it still has now.  UAF is about people, community and a “can do” spirit that just doesn’t exist in a lot of places today.

Over the years I’ve experienced UAF from many different perspectives  –  as a student, lemonade vendor, staff member, adjunct faculty, legislator, statewide administrator, regent, consultant, sometimes critic, and community supporter.UAF has been an important part of my life. It is exciting to have the opportunity to use what I have learned over the years to lead UAF.  I’ve learned that there’s always something new and interesting at UAF, always an opportunity to learn more about this diverse university. Sometimes, though, I feel like we’re in Lake Wobegon – a shy university, afraid to tell the world about all the great things we do.  We have a great story to tell.  And I am humbled that I get to help you all tell it.

I had the chance this summer to participate in our two signature K-12 bridging programs – the Rural Alaska Honors Institute and the Alaska Summer Research Academy.  These two are among nearly three dozen summer programs designed to connect young Alaskans to UAF.

I sat in on portions of this year’s Permafrost Conference, and saw how our quality research programs contribute to a worldwide effort to understand the effects of climate change on the northern environment.  I received numerous follow-up messages on what a great job the UAF conference team did in preparing for it.

A week ago I joined with deans and faculty working on improvements to the UAF Honors Program, looking to create a program worthy of Alaska’s first university.

I had the chance last week to meet with the accreditation team leader for the UAF social work program, and to hear from her that this is the smoothest accreditation visit she’s ever had.

And just yesterday I had watched a demonstration that Google and the faculty from the geography program at the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences are bringing to Barrow school teachers and students today, and then to Kotzebue and Nome, to extend the teaching of geography in the K-12 system.  They built a partnership based on creative work at the Alaska Volcano Observatory here at UAF, work that was recognized by Google as leading edge in use of technology.

These are just a few examples out of dozens where UAF stands out.

The theme of this year’s convocation is, quite simply, “First.”

What do I mean by that? Well, I mean a couple of things. 

“First” refers to areas of accomplishment; celebrating areas where we have been recognized as being the best at what we do, whether it’s being named “Best in the West” by the Princeton Review, our Emmy-award-winning public television and radio station, our students winning top honors in a worldwide mathematical contest in modeling, or our nationally recognized chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society.

“First” also refers to historical significance, recognizing the fact that UAF is Alaska’s first university --- the true flagship institution of the UA system --- and understanding the special responsibility that brings.

“First” also has to do with priorities, and it is our priority areas that are my focus today. Three themes came out of the transition team process.  If we follow them, we will position ourselves for unparalleled success for the people and communities we serve.

II. Put People First

The first theme is the simple notion of putting people first. It is focusing on the people we serve – for faculty and staff, serving our students.  For staff, it’s supporting our faculty and other employees.
If we put people first, we provide the kind of service our communities expect.

There are many examples in this room and of those listening remotely of people putting others first. A recent example is the Rev It Up program, where I saw staff, faculty and students working together to truly welcome more than 600 new students to UAF.  Every one that day worked together, often outside their normal work assignments, to ensure a success to our new students.

My favorite example of putting people first can be found with Einar Often. Einar is a member of the UAF cross-country ski team, and during a regional championship last March in Minneapolis, he did something remarkable. He put sportsmanship and competitive spirit above finishing first.

After Einar offered his pole to Ray, Ray went on to finish eighth and qualify for the NCAA championship. Einar finished 23rd, which qualified him as a spectator. But he’s getting a medal of a different nature – Einar was selected  from 80,000 student athletes across the country as one of two recipients of the NCAA Division II Sportsmanship of the Year Award. Einar is here today, and I’d like to ask him to stand. Please join me in congratulating him for his award.

When I talk about “Putting People First” I don’t expect you all to take to the ski trails. But I do expect you to hold me to a promise of putting you first. And I expect you to hold one another to a promise of putting each other first. It is all of us that make UAF the unique, inspirational place it is. But it is up to all of us to make the coming years even better than the nine decades before.

There are plenty of opportunities to follow Einar’s philosophy.  We all have our own area of strength to help those struggling. I want each of us – UAF students, staff and faculty – to be ready to lend a ski pole when it’s needed.

Here are some initiatives we have underway that I see following the “Put People First” theme.

  • We’re starting a “Family Friendly” task force to look for ways that UAF as an employer can recognize the needs of our employee’s families.  The special focus of this task force will be on child care needs in Fairbanks, but there is much more we can do to recognize that healthy employees need to be able to balance work and family commitments.
  • For students, we will adopt a “no wrong door” policy – When a student needs assistance, rather than sending him or her from office to office like a ping pong ball we must all pitch in to find the right place to help that student.
  • It starts with creating a “one stop shop” in Signers and Eielson to make those two buildings and the services they provide, more user friendly to students.
  • The UA Office of Instructional Technology (OIT) has partnered with the office of Faculty Development to establish a Center for Faculty Excellence to develop and enhance teaching and learning with technology.
  • For staff we are kicking off a new supervisor training program – with the goal that the 400 plus supervisors who work for UAF have the skills necessary to help our people and UAF grow and get better;
  • The Wellness Initiative Network, a wellness program that provides screening, individualized health planning and wellness support for all employees will start this fall.
  • Thanks to our development office, and to the generous support of donors, we have seen dramatic increases in giving the last couple of years. I meet tomorrow with the Rasmuson Fisheries Excellence Committee, donors and supporters who are helping UAF step up its fisheries undergraduate education and research opportunities.  And a good deal of new money is going toward scholarships that have helped more students go to school here, stay in school here, or graduate with less student debt.
  • I would like to thank all of the people who are working on these projects, and on other initiatives, that Put People First. If we put people first the second theme will come easy.

III. Engage Our Communities

“Engage Our Communities.”

This is not just a priority, but also a responsibility. It’s part of what we do as a land grant university. Since 1862, public universities have had an important role in supporting the communities in which they live. 

The social compact today is that land grant universities provide service to their communities, and in exchange, their states help pay some of the cost of higher education.

There are numerous ways UAF faculty and staff are actively engaged with the community, and one of the leaders in that endeavor is the Alaska Cooperative Extension Service.  Here’s Pete Pinney, interim dean of CES:

I want to emphasize that I am talking about engaging our communities. For those of us on the main campus, it’s easy to think about only Fairbanks, where we have the main campus, Tanana Valley Campus and the Interior-Aleutians Campus but our reach is much broader than that, spreading out to all areas of Alaska:

  • Our four rural campuses…
  • Our CRCD learning centers…
  • Our off-campus research stations…
  • Cooperative Extension Service…
  • the Marine Advisory Program…
  • …other off-campus academic programs…
  • and the communities throughout the entire state we serve through the Center for Distance Education.

That’s why I keep reminding people that we are U-A-F, and not just UF – we serve all of Alaska, and beyond.

For my part, engaging the community means bringing more people onto campus – and ensuring they can find parking, feel a part of UAF and want to come back.  It means being a part of community issues and decisions, even if they don’t directly bear on UAF. 

I ask that you consider how you can engage your community – by offering to speak at local schools, participating in the civic life of the community, supporting local economic development.

Community engagement also means reaching out to lend a helping hand. Giving to the United Way is a great way to reach community members in need. United Way of the Tanana Valley has just started its fundraising drive, so consider giving of your time and money to help a good cause.

To me, community engagement goes beyond the traditional definition of “public service,” where universities transmit the knowledge we have.  Engagement means listening and responding to community needs, and building the knowledge the communities need.

In the short term, I will be establishing a primary point of contact for UAF to work with me to better integrate UAF’s economic development activities with the Fairbanks, Interior and Western Alaska communities.  We need to define what economic development means for UAF and partner with our communities to see how to best move forward.

I am re-energizing the UAF Board of Visitors and establishing a Fairbanks Campus Advisory Council to better connect to our communities.  We will host a Fairbanks campus open house this spring, and begin a “campus in the community” service day for university staff and faculty who wish to participate.

Finally, I have asked the Faculty Senate to begin a conversation on how to better recognize faculty for the community engagement portion of their public service role.  I believe that with the exception of the CES unit standards, we do not adequately recognize community service in our promotion and tenure process. Our record for community service is strong. But we must do better.  Part of engaging our communities is showing Fairbanks and all of Alaska the great things we do. 

We can’t just talk of what we do and what we need.  We must listen and allow our priorities to merge with those of the communities in Alaska we serve.  More dialogue with community leaders on how the university fits in is a must. UAF can lend creativity and an open mind to work with partners in Alaska.

We will be about solving problems and getting to yes, not creating obstacles and roadblocks.
I’m convinced– if all of us engage our communities and provide valuable services the return will be better support and more success for our community and our university. Success in this area starts with my third theme.

IV. Make Responsible Decisions

It’s about action, about not being bound by “the way we’ve always done it.”  It is being willing to take risks to accomplish our missions.

I’m asking you to make responsible decisions by taking risks and doing new things. When you look around campus for a risk taker who does new things on a regular basis, I think you’ll agree that you couldn’t ask for a finer example than Michelle Bartlett.

Michelle was bold enough to commit UAF to staging a live broadcast of “Whad’ya Know” on KUAC-FM, which, by the way, was so successful she’s doing it again in 2009.  She pushed the envelope to get in-state tuition for all summer students, which was so successful that out-of-state enrollments went up by 400 percent. Michelle Bartlett is the consummate responsible rebel at UAF, and I’d like her to stand and be recognized.

Making responsible decisions means “question authority” when the authority doesn’t make sense, and we should always be willing to change, to adapt to 21st century ways of doing things when the 20th century methods no longer work.

Now I’m not asking you to take unnecessary risks, or to jeopardize people’s safety, or to fail to comply with federal or state laws.  What I am asking is that our campus administrative culture be less risk-averse, that rather than saying “no, you can’t do that,” the answer should be “well, you can’t do it that way, but here’s a solution that meets your needs.”

Sometimes it seems like change at UAF is an uphill battle.  And maybe it is.  But after watching the Nanook cross-country runners at the Ester Dome 5k earlier this month, I know that it is possible to finish a race even when it’s uphill all the way.

To initiate responsible change, and following up on the transition team process, we’ve taken a few steps.  Many of you are probably aware of the summer free parking experiment.  I will be following up with the creation of a Parking Advisory Committee to look at other ways we can work to improve the issue we all love to hate.

You probably know about the Polar Express Card as a borough bus pass. I am appointing a Sustainability Task Force to recommend and implement other ways we can reduce energy use and improve sustainability – here in Fairbanks and throughout the UAF campuses.

Through the transition, I heard repeatedly about concerns with the UAF human resource process.  I’ve appointed an acting HR director, and we will be recruiting shortly for a permanent director, adding new talent to this critical support function.  We must do more to support our departments in this area and we will provide HR with the tools to get the job done right.

We’re working on establishment of a research business office, on the West Ridge, to provide administrative services support to the special needs of the research community.

CRCD is working on implementation of online registration for its campuses, to allow those students with good connectivity to use these tools, without cutting off those students whose connectivity is still poor.

These are a few of the changes we have underway.  Through the transition website and other means of communication, I will keep you posted on our progress, so you can hold me and my administration accountable to our pledge of responsible action.

I’d also like to foster an environment on campus where people aren’t afraid to ask the questions that need to be asked. To that end I’m pleased to announce today that we are launching a new website at UAF called “The Grapevine.”

The purpose of “The Grapevine” is part communication, and part rumor control.  You can email questions; our marketing and communications office will find the answers and post them on “The Grapevine.” I hope it’s a fun way to improve internal communications at UAF.

V. FY10 Budget

This year’s budget process for the university system follows a new model, designed to foster cooperation among the three universities.  I am including more detail on the budget process than in past convocation presentations because throughout the transition process, most committees asked that more detail be made available.

There were six planning groups, covering health, engineering, teacher education, workforce development, student success, and research.  The planning groups developed packages in each of the areas, submitting prioritized lists.  At the same time, each of the universities submitted our prioritized lists for programs in and outside the planning groups.

The president and chancellors then discussed the issues and developed a combined budget request, which will be presented in draft form to the Board of Regents on Thursday.

This is only the first step in the process; the Board will take final action at the end of October, and then the governor will submit a proposal to the legislature in December.

The top system priorities in the operating budget request are:

  1. K-12 outreach and bridging programs, like the Alaska Summer Research Academy and the Interior-Aleutians campus early college high school initiative, and special education teacher preparation;
  2. Energy, engineering and climate programs, including the Alaska Center for Energy and Power, Cooperative Extension Service and energy outreach, and faculty to support instruction and research in engineering and climate change;
  3. Health and biomedical research and instruction, including support for UAF’s IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence and veterinary services programs, the UAF psychology clinic, allied health at TVC and rural human services faculty;
  4. Workforce development, including faculty support at the Tanana Valley, Northwest and Interior-Aleutians campuses; and
  5. Campus-specific programs, in our case emphasizing the new Ph.D in Indigenous Studies and strengthening the honors program and undergraduate research.

And as is always the case, we didn’t get everything we wanted in the operating budget request, but if we’re successful in Juneau with this request it will allow us to move forward on these priority programs. 

As I mentioned earlier, it’s our engagement with the communities we serve that will make the difference in how successful we are in getting state support for what we do.  I think our focus on these key areas  – energy, climate change, health and biomedical research, workforce development and indigenous studies – demonstrates our attention to the issues and needs of our communities.


Our capital budget request is significantly changed from last year, with some new approaches. 
As has been the case for years, our top priority is fixing what we already have – code corrections and major renewal and replacement projects. 

Our top priority for new construction is for life sciences research and instructional facilities – the project formerly known as BIOS.  While the BIOS plan remains the best solution to provide critical space for biological and life sciences, it’s clear that we’ve failed to get support from the legislature for this project, so we’re trying plan B.  Or maybe it’s plan C or D by now. 

The current plan, is to construct two buildings, one funded by the state for instruction and one by revenue bonds for research.  We lose some of the benefits of the co-location of research and instructional space, but gain time in meeting the need for critical research facilities.  There will be ample time for further discussion about just how to proceed on this top priority, but I will be taking the message to the Alaska community on how our life sciences research and instructional programs provide benefits to Alaskans, to help make the case for this top priority.

Second on our priority list is a similar project for energy and engineering research and instruction space, with a revenue-bond funded research facility and state-funded addition to the Duckering Building.

Third on our list, but held for a year with other campuses projects, is new student housing.  This is a significant move up the priority list, to recognize that the current UAF dormitories, built 40 years ago, no longer meet the needs of our students.  Over the next year, we will work on planning and design of new housing facilities for students.

The final new construction project is planning and design for a new fire hall and firefighter training center, to replace the current fire hall, which – can you believe it? – doesn’t meet fire code.

A new approach in the capital budget that we’re trying for the first time is a request for specific research projects.  Following our theme of focusing on state needs for energy and climate change research and development, we’ve requested 40 million dollars in specific multi-year research projects, tied to priorities of the state energy office and the governor’s sub-cabinet on climate change. 

The governor and Alaska legislature are facing the largest surplus in the state’s history during the coming session.  Last year, they saved large portions of the surplus.  This year, we hope they will choose to invest significantly in their best opportunity for economic and social development in Alaska – the University of Alaska.  I need your help in getting this message to our elected officials and candidates this fall.  We will be in touch about how to assist in the coming months.

VI. Closing and Questions

UAF is woven into the fabric of the great state of Alaska.  I am honored and humbled at the opportunity to lead this institution and serve you all. I am excited to help shape the next phase of UAF’s future. The state of our University is good, and with your help and guidance it is going to get better.

The next two years will be about showing what an institution can do when we put our people first. About showing what we can achieve engaging with our communities to overcome roadblocks and find solutions to problems. About showing how we can unite through debate and discussion, and we can act, by making responsible decisions.

While I am chancellor, UAF will be about action rather than inaction; we will take bold steps and create new ideas. We are going to make a few mistakes along the way… but I’ll take responsible action over fearful inaction any day.

Thank you.

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