State of the University Address 2015
Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us for the 2015 UAF State of the University address. To begin, a few safety items.
As we move into fall, I want to remind everyone that now is the time to begin planning for cold weather.
Several departments, including Environmental, Health, Safety and Risk Management, will be at the reception outside the concert hall following the presentation. They’ll have ice cleats for pickup and can explain how your department can order them in bulk.
It’s an honor and a privilege to address you today. I thank you for taking the time to come here, or to listen or watch from your offices across campus, across town or across the state at one of our rural campuses or learning centers. Welcome to all of you, our faculty, staff, students and alumni, and a special welcome to those of you who are new to UAF.
This is my 30th fall in Fairbanks. It is always a beautiful time of year. The sandhill cranes are steadily making their way south and the carillon rings occasionally in the background. Both of them are audible reminders that it’s September and we’re someplace special — the University of Alaska’s flagship campus.
Alaska itself is, of course, a part of what makes UAF special, but by far our greatest resource is our people. Unfortunately, we lost some of our finest educators and supporters this past year, so I ask us all to take a moment to remember them.
We will really miss them.
Before I begin my remarks, I’d like to introduce University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen. He’s the other new guy, at least in this role as president, but as many of you know, he’s worked many years for the University of Alaska, so this is kind of a return home for him. I’ve known Jim for some 15 years. Our kids went to school together. I can tell you from personal experience that he and his wife, Mary, both have a deep, meaningful connection to this state. We’ll need that in the coming years.
Please welcome President Johnsen.
Thank you, Jim.
I have a long history with UAF. After graduate school, my wife Teri and I were looking for jobs. Our number one goal — get to Alaska. Fortunately for us, we were offered an incredible opportunity in Fairbanks through the Lutheran Health Systems.
When we first moved here, I was immediately struck by the inclusiveness of the community. THIS was an unpretentious town with world-class opportunities in the natural world, the arts, and its university offerings.
People were just friendly, wanted to meet you, go exploring, go fishing, find a job — whatever they were here for, people just wanted to be themselves. It was an eclectic mix of environmentalists, developers, military, academics, miners, internationals, and indigenous populations. This is a richly diverse community, and the same thing can be said of Alaska as a whole. And after all these years, it really hasn’t changed.
Clearly, a major factor in us choosing Fairbanks — aside from a job in healthcare — was the university. As it turns out, UAF is a lot like Alaska — practical, welcoming, and wanting to get out there and do things.
Being part of a university town was paramount for Teri and me. We’re fortunate to have such a variety of classes, lectures, concerts, theater, athletics, and so much more. The university adds much to the richness of life throughout Alaska. I’ve been fortunate to have a connection to UAF for most of my time here.
I retired recently, after 30 years leading or helping lead Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. I took this job because, as a longtime Fairbanksan, I understand the critical role the university plays in Alaska. So when I was asked if I would step in as interim chancellor for a year, the answer was simple.Absolutely.
Our children grew up in Fairbanks, so they definitely knew UAF. In the summer, they were the camp kids, and attended writing, theater, finance, science and sports camps here. At one point, then UA President Mark Hamilton visited one of the camps. At the end of his motivational speech he encouraged the kids to think about attending UA when they got a little older.
Later that week we were at church, which Hamilton also attended. My fourth-grade son kept fidgeting and looking around to the back of the church. Finally, he turned and whispered to me, “Dad, I believe that’s General Eisenhower back there.”
This story illustrates the connection the university has to the community. There’s no town gown divide. In August, I attended Lee Salisbury’s memorial here at UAF. I was touched by the heartfelt tribute paid to Lee, and awed by the influence one man had on so many people. The community came together in the Salisbury Theatre to honor Lee and the legacy he shared with this institution.
Lee’s professional sphere was in the arts, but the way he wove together institution and community is what so many university people have done for the last century, and it is what many of you are doing now, each within your own professional spheres.
The university is wonderfully integrated with Alaska and Alaskans because you are out there — visiting local classrooms, serving on advisory councils, using your enthusiasm and expertise to help make our communities stronger and more vibrant.
Just as the university goes out to communities, our communities come to us as well, for athletics and special events — and for alumni reunions, which is going on right now. This is especially true for our community campuses, where the campus truly belongs to the community.
So as we move through this next year, I want to make the most of that connection between UAF and Alaskans. Here’s my shortlist of priorities.
I’m going to:
- Pass the baton
- Work the budget
- Provide stability
- Engage the community
Pass the baton. Easier said than done perhaps. But it will be critically important to find someone as passionate as Chancellor Brian Rogers and Sherry Modrow to lead this university as it begins its second centennial.
Work the budget. This is going to be another tough budget year, and we will be making difficult decisions. The vice chancellors will evaluate their areas and make recommendations. Their recommendations will go before the Planning and Budget Committee for consideration, and to determine if, by cutting one area, it has a negative effect on another unit that we cannot avoid.
In addition to dealing with the budget and helping UAF find a new, permanent leader, I want to provide stability.
I will do this by working with the existing leadership team and fostering and championing the shared governance concept. In the hospital, shared governance is with doctors. At UAF, it’s with students, staff and faculty. You are the experts, and I will rely on your expertise to help lead the way. What can we do better, more efficiently?
Engage the community — The state’s fiscal climate has changed drastically in the last two years. Our environmental climate is changing as well, sometimes, it seems, almost as dramatically. That’s why it’s as important as ever to engage the communities we serve. The challenges that face us as an institution, and that face us as private citizens — they also face our fellow Alaskans.
But in many ways, we have the resources to help. We have experts to advise on a huge range of subjects:
- Small-business development and workforce development.
- Education and health care.
- Resource extraction and resource management.
- Sustainability and self-reliance.
No list can possibly contain everything you know and everything you do for this state, but it’s important that you keep doing it, because the more people know that it’s UAF that is making a difference in their lives, the more they will help us make the case that Alaska needs UAF.
So, we need to engage communities, but it is also important to engage our employees. We’ll soon be rolling out an employee engagement survey to give us insight into how our employees are doing. I suppose it’s easy to be cynical about yet another survey, but I encourage you to participate. It’s even more critical now that leadership hear from you so we know where we need to make improvements. The first way you can help is by completing this survey.
As many of you know, I’ve been interim chancellor for a grand total of 24 days now, but I am very aware of the great strides this university has been making.
In the last seven years, UAF has:
- Launched the Sikuliaq.
- Raised $100 million in philanthropic giving.
- Awarded nearly 40 percent of all its degrees
- Completed the Murie Building.
- Expanded Wood Center through a novel public-private partnership.
- Started work on the engineering building
- And started work on the combined heat and power plant, which is on track, on budget, and has its financing fully secured.
These are simply a few successes we can point to over the last few years. There’s a good team in place here at UAF, which will help smooth the leadership transition.
We have the right people to lead us, we have the infrastructure, and we have the five guiding themes laid out through the three-year statewide strategic planning effort, Shaping Alaska’s Future, with its core themes of:
- student achievement
- school partnerships
- industry partnerships
- research, and
- accountability to Alaskans
This is really the umbrella, our strategic direction. These are themes you are all familiar with, because they are so similar to our accreditation themes:
- and engage.
They are familiar, because they are part of our mission, and because they are the work you do every day.
I was on the UA Board of Regents from 2011 until I became interim chancellor. I can tell you from my time there that three topics keep coming up:
- The budget — No surprise there. This is an ongoing concern for the regents and for the administration at all the campuses.
- Academic advising — Effective, one-on-one relationships with students means they are much more likely to do well in school and graduate.
- Title IX — Sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual discrimination: Whatever its form, wherever it happens, whoever was involved — it is wrong, and it will be not tolerated. If you see something, say something. Do something. We are a community. Take care of each other.
Creating community is something I’ve seen UAF do time and time again.
In terms of just plain fun since I’ve been here, I truly enjoyed Rev-It-Up and the campuswide welcome to new students. Simply being on campus at the start of the semester is an exciting and promising time in life.
Dozens of staff members, faculty and administrators, orientation leaders, student ambassadors, Dining Services and others take the time, not just to welcome these new students to campus, but also to literally move them in. Computers, clothing, bedding — you name it, they move it.
There was one parent who parked his camper out back behind the dorms for the night, and at eight a.m. when the dorms opened, he had his son moved into the front lobby by 8:05, and he said, “This is my third one — I’m out of here. I’ve got to get on the road!”
Then inside there was a mom almost hugging the admissions counselor, and saying to the first child she was sending off to college, “You’re going to be all right.” I think she was consoling herself as much as her daughter.
If you participated in move-in day, or in getting ready for it, or if you’re on a front line serving students, I want to personally thank you for your hard work and dedication. It’s your faces our students see when they first arrive on campus. Please give yourselves a round of applause!
The time and attention you give our students pays off. The first-year retention rates for our freshmen have exceeded our peers since 2005. Some of that is attributed to rigorous advising, but more broadly, it’s also our supportive environment. Our graduation rates are also improving and swiftly approaching our peers.
This year we launched a new alcohol and sexual assault prevention training program for students. Both are designed to help our students make good, safe choices for themselves and for each other.
I’m also pleased to report that nearly 100 percent of UAF employees have taken the mandatory training on sexual misconduct. Many of you participated in one of the trainings offered by Title IX coordinator Mae Marsh and Police Chief Keith Mallard.
I want to thank Mae and Keith as well as our community campuses for their outreach to shelters and police in Bethel, Dillingham, Fairbanks, Kotzebue and Nome. We’ve signed MOUs with several key organizations that deal with this issue. These efforts show that UAF is taking this seriously.
This isn’t just a top-down approach. For New Student Orientation, students and a faculty member wrote, produced and performed a play on the topic.
I was inspired by this novel approach and the initiative shown by our students.
UAF was also the first in Alaska to sponsor the college campus Green Dot bystander education training. Our students are already showing an interest in participating in this program, which shows how each of us has a role in preventing, recognizing and reporting violence and abuse.
All these efforts are about taking care of one another and creating a healthy learning environment for our students.
It’s probably no surprise to you that I’m a big fan of wellness programs. They help us have healthier employees and students, healthier families and a healthier bottom line. There’s a lot of positive in that.
Take advantage of our health screenings, and please, get your flu shot. You can save hundreds of dollars in insurance rebates, and these small choices have a huge effect in helping us contain our health care costs and ensuring we can all do our best work.
On December 31st, UAF will also become a tobacco-free campus. This is something I support wholeheartedly. We successfully implemented this at all hospitals in Alaska in the last few years, and I am glad to see UAF taking this step.
It’s really about our people. The talent the UAF staff and faculty bring to the university’s mission is extraordinary. The equation is simple: If we aren’t healthy, we can’t take on the challenges ahead. And as we all know, there are significant challenges ahead.
UAF is in its third year of cuts.
- In FY14 we saw an $8.5 million budget gap.
- In FY15 a $14 million budget gap
- And were currently managing a $20 million gap for FY16 due to a $13 million cut last year and $7 million in increased utilities and fixed costs..
- In total, this is three-year shortfall of about $42 million.
I realize that it’s been difficult. You’ve told me, and I’ve seen it. I know that we’re asking you to continue to do more with less. These are significant cuts, but I’m impressed with how UAF has managed the shortfall overall. It is difficult and painful, but it is necessary, and I ask that you do it with thought and analysis and innovative thinking.
Over the past year, UAF reviewed nearly 25 percent of its academic programs. The continued use of 90-day vacancy holds for positions, and furlough days for senior administrators have resulted in some savings. We’ve had contract reductions throughout the organization. We eliminated a number of positions through attrition, and, unfortunately, layoffs.
We’ve moved departments back to campus, reducing off-campus leases, and there have been a number of service reductions.
We were able to use one-time staff benefit savings this year. Unfortunately, that won’t be the case next year.
We recognize that next year will likely bring more reductions. Nevertheless, we are continuing to look at key areas of investment that will keep us stable for the time being and make us able to respond more quickly when the economy improves.
For FY17 we’ll request funding for fixed cost increases, which includes regulatory mandates such as Title IX and disability support services.
We’re also requesting funding for a few key program enhancements, including:
- Completing the establishment of the collaborative two-plus-two veterinary medicine program with Colorado State University.
- Meeting the chemical engineering degree demand to support industry needs.
- Requesting funds to finish the engineering building, and for deferred maintenance.
Funding to complete the engineering building remains our number one capital priority.
Of the 120,000 square feet constructed, only 6,000 is currently usable by the public — as a lobby and walkway between Duckering and Bunnell. Not for classes. Not for labs. As a result, we’re challenged to accommodate the increased demand for this important area of workforce and economic development. Students want to enroll in our engineering programs. Industry wants us to graduate more engineers. We need to get the building finished to meet the demand.
In addition, we must continue to address the more than $800 million deferred maintenance backlog.
We did not receive any funding for this backlog in FY16, so this year we will be asking for two years’ worth. Of all the needs in the statewide system, UAF shoulders the biggest burden, with the oldest facilities in the most critical shape. This is not a can that should be kicked down the road: The longer we wait, the more it costs to replace and repair.
While we look to the state to help us meet some of our needs, we are fully aware that there are others we must meet ourselves.
For UAF to continue a similar level of high-quality service that we have delivered in the past, we must increase our revenue as well.
About 42 percent of our budget comes from the state. Two years ago, Alaska crude was more than 100 dollars a barrel. Today, it’s less than 50. Every agency is affected, but we must continue to advocate for the university and show that we are part of the solution to the state’s fiscal crisis, not part of the problem.
In addition to our general fund dollars, another 10 percent of our revenue, or $43 million, comes from tuition and fees. Our tuition rate continues to be the second lowest in comparison to our peers nationally. UAF is a great value.
About 19 percent, or $92 million, of our revenue comes from research activities primarily made up of federal receipts, and another 2 percent from federal stimulus funding.
UAF’s research dollars have been steadily declining despite our best efforts. UAF scientists are extremely successful in competing on a national scale.
However, federal research spending declines, are due primarily to the end of the stimulus funding, and to tightening at the federal level.
Fundraising is another revenue source for us.
Under Chancellor Brian Rogers’ leadership, UAF’s development team raised $100 million in the last seven years, due in part to focusing fundraising efforts on some of UAF’s biggest needs as we head into our centennial.
Additional effort on development and fundraising remains a priority. We will continue to build on long-standing relationships with our alumni network and community partners.
President Obama’s recent visit to Alaska, and the role many of our researchers played in that visit, underscored yet again the opportunity to capitalize on the intense global interest in the North.
Our scientists have dedicated their professional lives to understanding the Arctic. That’s why the president’s chief science and technology advisor, John Holdren, recently traveled to Fairbanks. He wanted to meet with the world’s best Arctic scientists — our scientists — so their expertise could be tapped by the White House and the senior Arctic officials of the international Arctic Council.
In addition to our advisory role with the Arctic Council:
- UAF coordinates the academic affairs for the University of the Arctic, or “UArctic”
- UAF, along with UArctic and Dartmouth, form the Institute for Arctic Policy
- Two of our researchers are in the inaugural class of Fulbright Arctic scholars, a brand-new initiative that is co-led by a third UAF member.
As Jim Johnsen has said so emphatically, we will not cede our leadership role in Arctic research.
The list of opportunities is long. Climate change and shipping lanes, unmanned aircraft systems, search and rescue, energy and microgrids, homeland security and oil spill response, biodiversity, human migrations and cultural resilience — and that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. All this, and you are the experts.
Now UAF is gearing up for one of the largest annual conferences on Arctic science. This coming March, scientists and policymakers from all over the world will come to the Fairbanks campus for a very broad, very impressive array of world-class events, including the Arctic Science Summit Week and the Arctic Observing Summit.
Our presence in the Arctic allows us to capitalize on our strengths and open doors to new opportunities, including commercial ventures. For example, invention disclosures have gone from six in 2011 to 75 last year. We must consider this potential for growth as a revenue source.
Another revenue source is tuition. The regents looked at all the tools we can use to continue providing quality programs, and they have put it back on the table. The fiscal reality demands it: We will engage our students in the conversation, because tuition has been and will continue to be part of the budget discussion.
That’s one effort, but what about the number of students enrolling? The demographics are stark — fewer high schoolers are graduating in Alaska, and the competition for them from other universities is tough. So we have to boost our base by investing in marketing and recruitment. We have great programs here, but we need to make sure people know about them.
Our admissions and marketing teams are working hard and creatively to attract those students, reaching out to them, in their communities and here on campus, with things like
- Inside Out, where potential students get an inside look at UAF
- Coordinating with schools and colleges to strategically expand our presence at college fairs in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest
- Establishing productive partnerships with high school counselors throughout the state
- And targeted marketing campaigns within the state and Outside
These efforts are a long-term investment in creating a culture in Alaska that sees UAF as a top choice, not a fallback position.
Once our students enroll, we have to advise them intensively and well to keep them here. And we need to expand access.
For some students, affordability is access. You can’t go to college if you can’t pay for it. For most students, that means a combination of work-study programs, loans and grants, but also scholarships, and that’s an area we’ll be focusing on in the coming years through the centennial scholarships program.
Access also means being physically or technologically able to take a class or get a degree, wherever students are. They shouldn’t be held back by a poor Internet connection or a class that’s offered rarely and in just one location. Students can’t always come to us; we have to be able to go to them. This is something those of you in rural Alaska know better than anyone.
Our challenge: To maintain quality programs and services as we face additional uncertainty. We have to increase enrollment, and we have to increase the number of students who graduate.
Every student counts. Students are not the abstract responsibility of a small group limited to faculty and the good people in Admissions, Financial Aid and Residence Life. Most of you listening are university employees. You know the ins and outs. Help a lost student find their way. Recommend a resource to a struggling freshman. You don’t have to provide the solution, but you can help a student get to someone who can. It doesn’t have to take much from you, but it can mean so much to them.
As UAF heads into the centennial, we have established three fundraising initiatives. The initiatives help ensure UAF is equipped to provide a world-class education in the coming century.
One initiative is to raise $6.5 million in private funds to relocate the Alaska Center for Energy and Power to the fourth floor of the new engineering building.
The center has outgrown its facilities and needs a new, permanent home to house new, innovative labs and workspace that will equip researchers and students to meet real-world energy needs.
The staff and students there work with partners to develop practical, cost-effective and innovative energy solutions, not just for Alaska but for the world.
You know what the future holds.
You just saw one of our students directly engaged in research. Students are the focus of another initiative, the Centennial Cornerstone Scholarship and Fellowship Endowment. We’re raising private funds to boost existing scholarship and fellowship awards, aid that will help retain the most talented students. This initiative launched April 2015 with a goal to raise $1 million in new scholarship support.
Last month, at Chancellor Roger’s retirement celebration, I was inspired as community members came with checks in hand to support this important fundraising effort. Many of you contributed to this fund. Thank you.
Our third effort is to raise $25 million for the Troth Yeddha’ Park and an indigenous studies center. This park and center will honor Alaska’s first people, strengthen the bridge between their cultures and higher education, and help us serve our students. In 2014, for the first time, the number of Alaska Native students graduating was proportional to the state’s population.
The Troth Yeddha’ initiative builds on UAF’s decades-long history of service to rural and Native students through entities such as the Department of Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development, and the tribal management and Native arts programs.
While these are three very different projects, they have an unshakeable underlying goal: To help make a better Alaska. Make our lives warmer, richer, brighter. Make us more curious, and more capable.
I believe it is the role of everyone listening to help us all be better thinkers, makers, and communicators. Help us be better teachers, researchers, and students. These are not job-specific duties of just some of us. Each of us, every day, has an opportunity to teach someone, learn from someone, help someone.
My academic training is in the humanities, but for three decades, I have worked with doctors — scientists. Science and the humanities are not an “either/or” elective but a “both/and” imperative. If our students are to become great citizens, they must have both.
These are big goals. Grand plans. But this university was built on grand plans. Judge James Wickersham placed the cornerstone in an open field and set something in motion that would forever change the landscape of Alaska. The effort wasn’t without its challenges, however, as these excerpts from Judge Wickersham’s diary makes clear.
and I am very, very glad of it.
Wickersham’s grand plan had come together. He prevailed, and we will too. This Alaska grit and determination is in our DNA.
I may only be here a short time, but I have faith in this university and its leadership team. For you—the staff and faculty, students and alumni—there are more opportunities now than ever before to get involved, to lead, and make a difference.
Our grand plans are taking shape, and you are all so important to the future. For me, it’s an honor to be here at this time. Challenging? Yes. But this university has come far in the last 100 years. It’s rather extraordinary to think how far we’ll go. UAF will make grand plans and continue to change the landscape of Alaska.
To this group — with all of you, here in person or listening online or on the radio —