The first chancellor of the University of Alaska Fairbanks arrived at a turbulent time. Howard Cutler began the job in 1976. Five years later, when he moved to a faculty position teaching economics, he had served under five statewide university presidents.
"We went through so many things," he told a newspaper reporter as he left the chancellor's job in June 1981.
Through all the upheaval, which in many ways created the framework of today's institution, Cutler kept one thing sacred: He met with students every week at the fireplace in Wood Center. Sometimes no one showed up. Sometimes 200 did.
He often found himself without answers to their questions. "A chancellor doesn't have many of the answers," he admitted. "He's blessed with a lot of specialists who know the answers better than he."
A graduate of Harvard and Columbia universities, Cutler first came to UAF in 1962 as vice president for academic affairs under then-President William R. Wood. Cutler left after a few years to join the New York City institute that administers Fulbright scholar grants.
Even a decade after leaving UAF, he was so well regarded and remembered in Fairbanks that more than 100 people from the business community signed a letter requesting that he be hired as the school's first chancellor.
Cutler was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1981. He continued to teach, and he remained active in the community until his death in 1995.
Cutler's wife, Enid, was a well-known artist. They had three children. Enid moved to Pennsylvania to be with family in 2002 and died in 2012.
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