Convocation 2011


Good afternoon everyone, and welcome to the Chancellor’s Convocation 2011. Thank you to Morris Palter and Ensemble 64.8 for getting us started today.

One of my graduate school professors suggested that to really understand the meaning of a word, you needed to look at its root, and see what other words are associated with it. “Convocation” comes from an indo-European root meaning “to call,” or “to call together” with associated words of “evoke,” “invoke,” and “provoke.”  “Chancellor” is based on a late Latin word meaning “door-keeper.” So my role today is to open doors, to call you together, and to provoke you to action.  

Faculty, students, staff, alumni and friends, thank you for coming to Davis Concert Hall today. Welcome too, to you who are participating from UAF locations throughout the state and elsewhere via audio conference or streaming audio.  

I would like to begin by recognizing UAF’s three governance leaders ---

I’d also like to recognize my wife and life partner, UAF alumna Sherry Modrow. And here with her today is Ailese Gamble, wife of UA President Pat Gamble. Ailese, thanks for joining us today.

We have several new members of UAF’s leadership team. As I introduce each, I ask that they stand, but please hold your applause until all are standing.

Welcome all!

We also have new faculty, staff and students at all UAF locations. Please stand and let us welcome you to UAF!

Today’s convocation is a little longer than usual. It ends with my thoughts on the path toward our centennial in 2017. And our staff knows we need to keep the ice cream cold until I’ve finished.

Looking back, I am impressed by how much you have accomplished for UAF.   The passion and talent of people at UAF are impressive.   Let me share just a few highlights of the past year.

  • The work of Sustainability Director Michele Hebert. Michele, her students, and countless others on campus, helped UAF receive a Gold rating for sustainability efforts on campus by the Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment and Rating Systems, or STARS. We’re one of 23 institutions in the entire country, and the only one in Alaska, to have a Gold rating.
  • This last winter was a brutal one for Interior Alaska, and for several of our rural sites. We had the ice-pocalypse in November and the massive snowstorms in March. Our facilities services team worked around the clock to make the Fairbanks campus accessible and safe. Bear Edson and the facilities team are doing a wonderful job keeping our academic homes operating.
  • UAF awarded 46 PhDs, a new record, and has 432 PhD students enrolled. Thanks go to all the faculty members who are involved in graduate education, serving on committees, and mentoring the next generation of the academy. And to Larry Duffy, thank you for your interim leadership of the Graduate School for the past several years.
  • This summer brought UAF’s Fairbanks campus the busiest construction season in recent times. The shining star, the Life Sciences Facility, has emerged with amazing speed. Construction project manager Cameron Wohlford and other members of the design and construction team have provided superb work on this facility. Thank you for making UAF a better place for those who teach, work, and learn here. 
  • On the research front, a newly excavated archaeological site in Alaska contained the cremated remains of one of the earliest inhabitants of North America. The site may provide rare insights into the burial practices of Ice Age people and shed new light on their daily lives. UAF archaeologists Ben Potter and Joel Irish and three colleagues published their discovery in the Feb. 25 edition of the journal Science, and the discovery earned national and international media coverage.
  • Rose Meier and the Council of Yup’ik elders integrated traditional Yup’ik knowledge in the creation of a new textbook on ethnobotany under the direction of Kuskokwim Campus Director Mary Pete. Classes in ethnobotany were offered in both Bethel and Kotzebue, where students learned about Yup’ik and Inupiaq uses of Alaska plants.
  • Our engineering programs continue to grow to meet the system goals; we now have over 700 undergraduate engineering students, we graduated 87 engineers this year toward a goal of 100 annually, and retained 83 percent of freshmen engineers, all new highs for the college. Thank you,engineering faculty, and kudos to the steel bridge team.

Now please keep in mind -- this is just a small subset of highlights from the past year. It would take hours to give appropriate accolades to all of the incredible work that is going on at UAF. I thank you all for your part in all of our successes.

In four years we will mark the centennial of laying the cornerstone for our university. In six years we will celebrate its founding. Today I want to talk about the planning efforts underway that will lead us forward, boldly and confidently, to our 100th anniversaries.

Here is University of Alaska President Pat Gamble on UA’s strategic direction.

VIDEO: Pat Gamble

Working within the President’s vision, UAF -- the flagship campus of the system -- will plan for a future that will excite and serve the students who learn here, the faculty and staff who work here, and the communities that depend on us.

As we approach our centennial, we want to communicate what a treasure UAF is. Our strategic marketing committee will help improve UAF’s brand, image, and communications to external audiences.  


Across the UA system, we worked on, and the Board of Regents adopted, a system Academic Master Plan. Here is Provost Susan Henrichs, one of the key architects of that plan:

VIDEO: Susan Henrichs

Institutional accreditation is critical for us as a university. It assures students and parents that we are a good choice.   It assures the federal government that UAF meets standards expected of a university:

  • We understand our mission and have clear goals for how to meet that mission;
  • We measure our progress;
  • We offer a quality academic experience;
  • We appropriately treat students and their records; and
  • We have sound fiscal status and management.

The process of periodic accreditation benefits the university by requiring us to examine our standards and performance, enabling us to identify our strengths as well as any areas of weakness, and to improve where needed. Our comprehensive self-evaluation report was sent to the evaluators in August.

Look for the report, and more information on the process at . I encourage you to read it, especially in your areas of interest. Vice Provost and Accreditation Liaison Officer Dana Thomas led the process. Faculty member Glenn Juday wrote an accolade to Dana that I would like to quote:

“The accreditation report presents a clear, accurate, penetrating, accessible, and informative view of UAF, a sprawling and multifaceted institution in a large and diverse state. These documents have set a new standard, and are themselves an indication of the quality of the institution. In my experience, few institutions are capable of this sort of judicious self-analysis. In my more than 30 years at UAF I cannot recall anything that even comes close. 

The reason this difficult assignment was successfully carried out, was due in no small part to your leadership - a mixture of in-depth knowledge, collegiality, determination, and steady commitment to the larger goal.”

Thank you, Dana, and everyone who worked with Dana on this critical task.

Next on the docket is a visit from the evaluation team October 3rd through 5th here in Fairbanks. The site reviewers volunteer their time to help assess and improve higher education. They will speak with faculty, staff and students prior to and during the visit, so please encourage others to read and be prepared for a phone call or visit. The chair of the evaluation team will deliver closing remarks at a public presentation from 9:30-10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, October 5, right here in the Davis Concert Hall and via audio conference.

What have we learned from the process so far? The good news is…quite a bit. Here are some samples of how we measure progress on our five core themes:

  • In Educate: we learned that our retention rate of first-time, full-time freshman degree-seeking students increased to an all time high of nearly 70 percent.
  • In Discover: we learned that while research expenditures per faculty member were in the $90 to $100,000 range at our peer institutions, here at UAF our faculty members generate more than double that amount, at $195 to $223,000 dollars.
  • In Prepare: we learned that 94.8 percent of students who took programmatic certification or qualifying exams passed those tests. In most categories, a larger percentage than the national average passed, and two-thirds of the tests reported 100 percent pass rates.
  •   In Connect: we learned that of 62 reported partnerships with communities, businesses, and state and local government agencies, one third have endured for more than a decade. This speaks to partner satisfaction and continuing value.
  • In Engage we learned that in 2010 we offered a total of 588 distinct workshops at 91 locations across Alaska, with an attendance of over 17,000 participants.

These achievements are a tribute to the work of UAF’s faculty, staff, and students, and demonstrate our reach throughout Alaska.  

Our mission statement and strategic plan are now seven years old. We need to update both for the next accreditation cycle. The first report is due next fall - which will require that we revisit our themes, objectives and indicators of achievement.

One thing that won’t change is the value of a liberal education, now and tomorrow. Universities are not just job factories. At UAF we need to teach students to think, adapt, and use logic. They need to be able to research, write, compute and communicate. They need to be engaged in civic life, and understand our role in the global environment. A college education means delivering quality in all of those areas, as well as workforce development and career enhancement.

That means work on our core curriculum. It was adopted in 1991, and doesn’t fully reflect the world of the 21st century. The current core has a substantial focus on subject area knowledge: science, math, writing, speaking, social sciences, and humanities. We need to recognize the interdisciplinary nature of solutions to today’s problems, including civic engagement, sustainability, globalization and indigenous knowledge, and the value of internship experiences in the core.


From the first incoming class on the Fairbanks campus, to today’s diverse student body across our community campuses, one thing remains constant: Students are our reason for being and the focus of our work. Strategically building enrollment is a fundamental component of a rich and vibrant UAF.

Here is Vice Chancellor for Students Mike Sfraga on current enrollment planning.

VIDEO: Mike Sfraga

Those enrollment-planning efforts that Mike talked about have already been paying off. Final numbers won’t be available until later this semester, but fall enrollments show an increase in both the number of students and student credit hours. My thanks to the faculty, admissions staff, academic advisors, and recruitment professionals who worked hard to make these gains possible.

I am pleased to report a nearly 50 percent increase in the number of First Time Freshman from Anchorage, Mat-Su, Kenai and Soldotna. We want to be the institution of first choice for college-bound Alaskans.

To accentuate this point -- just last week I welcomed to UAF 190 new UA Scholars. They are the largest incoming class of Scholars in the program’s history. They know what we know -- this is the place to be!

A vibrant and responsive 21st century university must celebrate other cultures and perspectives. I want our university community to benefit from students and scholars from other countries -- creating an international experience that enhances our learning and living environment.

So I’ve challenged the Office of International Programs and Initiatives to increase the number of students and scholars coming to UAF from abroad, building upon several strategic initiatives already in place --in China, India, throughout the Americas, and yes, even Mongolia. And we’ll continue to take advantage of our special role in the University of the Arctic.

Our campuses must continue to change and adapt -- because our students are far different than those of just a decade ago.

Technology, online learning, and economic realities are just a few of the issues guiding us to rethink the way we teach -- and learn. Offering classes and programs via e-Learning is no longer an interesting option; it’s a necessity. Enrollments in the Center for Distance Education continue to surge, with e-Learning a critical component of many students’ graduation strategies.

Let me shift to the UAF student experience. Our students demand more out-of-class activities and programs -- so we will continue to respond to this challenge. In the past two years staff have dramatically increased the number and type of programs taking place on the Fairbanks campus -- and they’ve done a great job.

We have new wellness and fitness programs that take advantage of our unique campus and northern landscape. Just last month we completed the construction of the UAF Outdoor Education Center -- a combined rock and ice climbing wall that will serve as an instructional and recreational facility. The Center will enable us to increase the number of outdoor education courses, intramural and residence life programs, and youth camps. Thanks to Mark Oldmixon for your leadership, and to the facilities crew, and risk management for making this happen. And that’s not all.

We challenged the staff of the new Department of Recreation, Adventure and Wellness, which includes the Student Rec Center, Outdoor Adventures, the Outdoor Ed Center, and still-evolving Nanook Terrain Park to develop a new, comprehensive wellness, fitness, and recreation experience for students, faculty, and staff.


A crucial part of our long-term plan is the strategy for UAF research. Here is Vice Chancellor for Research Mark Myers:


Central to our research planning is a focus on research and development relevant to the State of Alaska, its communities, and its people. A strong partnership with the state is going to be essential. We’re fortunate right now to have Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell as one of our supporters. He has background in research and truly understands the importance of what we are doing. Here is a brief video clip where he speaks to the state/university connection:


Recent research initiatives that will strengthen our relationships include areas such as oil spill response, climate change, oil production, ocean acidification, earthquake and volcanoes, and rare earth minerals. We look forward to working with Governor Sean Parnell and the State Legislature on ways UAF research can bring value to these areas so critical to the future of our state.

Research relevant to Alaska isn’t limited to the sciences. The work at the Alaska Native Language Center to update the state’s Alaska Native Language Map contributes to Alaskan understanding. The collaboration between the arts and biology that resulted in the live stage production of In a Time of Change: Envisioning the Future brought together scientists and artists to share their ideas surrounding climate change and the future.

Most importantly, as Alaska’s research university, we need to strengthen that connection between our research endeavors and the student experience. I am pleased that Barbara Taylor stepped up to direct URSA, the office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activity. URSA’s mission is to support, develop and institutionalize UAF’s diverse and robust programs of student-faculty collaboration in the creation of discipline-specific knowledge.


To address academic, student, and research planning, we need adequate facilities. Here is Rich Boone, co-chair of the Campus Master Planning Committee:


In addition to his Master Planning efforts, Rich is UAF’s lead as dean of graduate studies for the University of the Arctic, and will be spending the next year on loan to the National Science Foundation. And I should note that community campus master planning is underway this year, so we will have master plans for all our campuses.

I know this summer has been challenging for those who work, play or study near our construction zones. We’ve got a lot going on. In addition to Life Sciences, other projects include:

We’re reducing the backlog in deferred maintenance, and making technology improvements such as smart classroom upgrades and the Voice Over Internet Protocol, or VOIP conversion.

Just as students expect more e-Learning opportunities, they also want their residence hall experience to reflect current trends. We have started aSustainable Village partnership with the Cold Climate Housing Research Center, which will create innovative, arctic-appropriate student housing. We plan to use a public/private partnership to construct a dining facility addition to Wood Center, and suite-style housing with up to 250 beds for upper division and graduate students. If all goes well, we expect both the new dining and housing to be ready for use in 2013.

It’s great to have growth, but new facilities need heat and lights. That brings me to the most significant construction project facing us: a replacement for the aging Atkinson Heat and Power Plant.

We have $3 million for permitting and preliminary design work needed to complete the permitting process this year. We requested $22 million for next year, most of which would be used for actual design of what is likely to be a nearly $200 million project.

Replacement now, rather than renewal of the existing plant, is the best option in terms of efficiency, fiscal accountability, and environmental responsibility.

A combined heat and power plant is the most efficient way to provide energy the Fairbanks campus needs - to get the maximum energy from the fuel we use. When heat and power are generated separately, they operate at about 52 percent efficiency, but when combined, they operate at 65 to 70 percent efficiency

Replacement now, rather than renewal, is a fiscally accountable choice. With just the information we have now, we know without a new plant we will need to spend over $40 million cobbling together temporary, expensive patches to a system nearing the end of its useful life over the next several years.

Replacement now, rather than renewal, is an environmentally responsible choice. A new plant will reduce overall emissions compared to the current plant - the current one burns coal, oil, and a little natural gas, while the new energy portfolio includes coal, biofuels, gas/propane, wind, and waste energy.

Now I know some don’t want coal on campus - but we have examined every alternative. There is no other cost-effective way to heat the Fairbanks campus. Heating with oil would cost us an additional $26 million per year, on top of the $8 million we now spend on fuel. That would be 20 percent of our total state funding. We do have alternatives for electricity, but without coal, we will either freeze in the dark, or freeze with the lights on.

This will be a monumental project, but among the most important as we approach our centennial. Just like Life Sciences, it is going to take all of us within the university as well as our community supporters, to advocate for its necessity. That worked with Life Sciences, and it will work for the combined heat and power plant.

Other significant construction projects on the horizon are a new engineering facility, a new fire hall and emergency and firefighter training center, and revitalization of the Kuskokwim Campus and West Ridge. We will talk more about these projects in the months and years to come.


Each year we say farewell to members of the UAF family. Pictures of a few of those who died in the past year are on the screen behind me. I ask you to join me for a moment of silence to remember those whose lives we lost and who made a difference to us, and whom we will miss.  


Before I conclude today’s convocation with an outline of 2017, I want to call all of you to actions that will enhance our future.

The first is on giving. Last year we saw an increase in individual and alumni giving to UAF, with nearly 250 new donors, a 7 percent increase over last year. Thank you to all who contributed. This year, I again ask you to join Sherry and me in giving back to our university.  

The UAF United Way Campaign will also soon kick off. Mark and Lael Oldmixon are spearheading our efforts this year. UAF shows we are a part of the community by our participation; the community shows its recognition of us by its support for our efforts. Mark and Lael will be at the doors as you leave today to hand you more information on how to give to United Way.

The second call is to be healthy. Yes, be healthy. We are all aware and frustrated with health care costs, and the effects on university health care plans. One of the ways each of us can make a difference is by leading a healthy lifestyle. And it doesn’t hurt to have a little fun at the same time.

So we’re embarking on a Healthy Challenge between UAF and Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. We’ve competed for several years on the Heart Walk, raising funds and awareness for heart health. Now we’re upping our competition.

The Healthy Challenge will be in three phases. First, a competition between Fairbanks Memorial Hospital CEO Mike Powers and me. Second, a Healthy Challenge competition between my UAF cabinet members and the FMH administrative team. And finally, a Healthy Challenge competition in early 2012 will be between all UAF employees and all FMH employees. Look for details in the near future.

FMH CEO - and member of the University of Alaska Board of Regents - Mike Powers is here in the audience today, and I would like to ask him to stand be recognized for partnering with us in this endeavor. Oh, and Mike? One more thing. We are in this to win. So let me offer you an extra scoop of ice cream to start the competition.

A second healthy initiative addresses a frequent request - for university staff to have wider use of the Student Recreation Center. Look for an announcement shortly of expanded staff access, supported by university resources.


In the feedback from prior convocations, there were several comments asking that I lay out my vision for UAF. I chose not to do so in prior years, in part because my view of leadership is that setting the vision is a collaborative process, born in the shared governance tradition of the academy. And leadership at a campus, or at an institution like UAF that has many campuses, means orchestrating the process, working to include all stakeholders and to bring them together as a team to carry out the vision.

We face some challenges in the coming years:

  • Economic Challenges: With the current state of the economy, state and federal revenue pressures are likely to persist;
  • Market Challenges: Students and the public may be unwilling to pay the increased costs of higher education;
  • Student Challenges: Many students look at higher education more as a commodity than as an intellectual, personal, and career advancement opportunity;
  • Delivery Model Challenges: Consumer driven demands of the student population may conflict with a system vested in tradition;
  • Public Challenges: How do we remain a relevant, top priority in a community struggling with the high costs of energy just to get by?
  • Administrative and Management Challenges: How do we efficiently provide quality services, focusing our resources on mission delivery?

That said, I do have a vision for how UAF will change and adapt to the realities of 2017. It’s made up of initiatives that come from you, the faculty and staff of UAF, our students, our alumni and friends. It will require that we reflect on the necessity of change to meet the challenges, and that we work together to identify needed actions.

When I started working on this section of the speech, I found it went on and on. You and I have big dreams for this university. I’m going to note a few of the top goals, but the work won’t be done until you’ve had the chance to add, delete, markup and comment during the upcoming planning processes.


  • UAF in 2017 will be the institution of choice for Alaska’s best and brightest students.
  • More of our students will graduate, and more will graduate within four or five years.
  • Every student will have first-rate academic advising throughout his or her academic career.
  • Program review will lead to improvements to underperforming degree programs and the retirement of programs that are no longer needed.
  • We will create new degree programs that take advantage of new research capacity and meet student and societal needs.
  • Undergraduate research will be an important component of undergraduate baccalaureate degrees, and part of most UAF researchers’ work.


  • Our faculty research efforts will be recognized as central to the future of Alaska, the development of its economy, the advancement of its communities, and the preservation of its cultures.
  • Interdisciplinary research will be the core of our enterprise, and our graduates will be best at solving the complex multi-dimensional challenges facing us now and in the future.
  • UAF’s rural campuses will be seen as key partners by the UAF research community.
  • There will be increased research collaboration among the sciences and engineering, and the social sciences and humanities.


  • UAF students will lead the nation in documenting the dynamic change in rural Alaska and the impacts such changes are having on traditional life.
  • Faculty at our community campuses will deliver more culturally and environmentally relevant courses and programs to students on the Fairbanks campus.
  • UAF will be a model for a sustainable university in an extreme environment.


  • Alaska Native students will be participating and graduating at the same rate as all other students.
  • Our workforce will be more diverse, reflecting the variety of Alaska’s people. Our campuses will be welcoming to all, where people of color, LGBT individuals, religious and cultural minorities feel welcome and appreciated.


  • UAF faculty-developed intellectual property will lead to more patents, licenses, and commercial opportunities.
  • Through community campuses, Cooperative Extension Service, the Marine Advisory Program, and other engagement efforts, UAF will be recognized as Alaska’s University, a key underpinning of Alaska’s future success
  • We will be concluding the Cornerstone Campaign, UAF’s first major multi-purpose capital and operating fundraising campaign. We will see alumni and individual giving reach new highs, supporting initiatives like library expansion, Troth Yedd’ha Park, student scholarships and program support.

I could say a lot more about UAF in 2017. But what’s really needed is that you say a lot more. The next year will include a conversation about our mission, and where we want to go in the next six years. That’s a conversation, not a convocation speech. I look forward to hearing from you. Let's listen to what some of our students think UAF should look like in 2017.


As part of the conversation I’ll continue to hold at least two open forums each semester, one in Fairbanks and one by audio for rural sites. I think the question and answer format works better in the smaller, open forum environment. In the meantime, ask questions via the Grapevine, and we’ll answer as quickly as possible. I want to close with a thank you to all of you for what you do to make the university a great one. 

Now, let’s go have some ice cream!

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