Information technology (IT) and the markets it creates for education will continue to change rapidly, and the great challenge for the state and the University of Alaska will be to provide clear direction, coordination and evaluation to guarantee the best service possible to all students and to help assure that rural Alaska is not left out of the unfolding IT development because of a lack of connectivity.
"Right now we have a significant urban-rural divergence when it comes to connectivity," said Steve Smith, the university's chief technology officer, who helped brief regents on IT. "We need to make sure that the divergence that exists now is not allowed to continue so that rural Alaska is, in effect, abandoned because of the lack of infrastructure."
"Collaborative partnerships will be part of the answer," Smith said. "We have to get the most we can from every dollar we spend on information technology and that's going to require partnerships at almost every level of IT development."
Smith was joined by Dr. Alex Hills, formerly of UA and now vice provost and chief information officer for Carnegie Mellon University, widely recognized as the nation's leading university in the field of wireless technology, and Dr. Jason Ohler, associate professor of education at UAS. The presentation included an overview of IT within UA and Alaska in general, the state of the art and emerging trends in IT, and the needs of the university for information technology to deliver educational programs.
For the regents, Smith highlighted the partnership between UA and the University of Washington which has placed UA on the cutting edge in the development of the next generation of the Internet. UA is being connected to the next generation Internet2 super-high-speed research and education network. The fiber optic cable connection is being contributed by WCI Cable, Inc., to the University of Washington to advance the Pacific/Northwest Gigapop Internet2 research and education networking effort.
UA and UW have a long history of collaboration in research, education and medicine including a partnership in the late 1980s in bringing the original Internet, then called NSFnet, to the northwest and Alaska.
At present, there is no cost effective way to reach 100 percent of Alaska with Internet connections, Smith said, but he added that newly emerging options and partnerships that help spread costs and leverage assets are making a difference in the way the state's infrastructure develops from this point forward.
Students at UAS in Juneau will soon have a student union facility for the first time. Following a briefing on the matter by campus officials, regents authorized the administration to proceed with leasing the facility formerly known as Horton's Hardware for use as a center where students can meet, socialize and host special events.
The board authorized the DataLynx project for construction of improvements at the UAF Poker Flat Research Range, not to exceed a total project cost of $700,000, and the plan for entering into a facility-use/lease agreement with DataLynx including support services and opportunities for research, data analysis and employment and training for students.
Regents approved the addition of a coding specialist certificate in the health information management program at UAS. Statewide distance delivery of the health information management program was begun by the Sitka campus in 1992. In early 1995, the program was selected by the Western Interstate Consortium on Higher Education (WICHE) as one of the model distance delivered programs to be marketed to other consortium member universities. Since 1995, 37 students have been graduated, and seven more are expected this year.
Administrative cost savings of about $11.5 million have been achieved by the University of Alaska in the last two fiscal years, and regents have accepted these savings in lieu of the $10 million savings goal set by the board in 1997. Regents said they were recognizing the substantial efforts and sacrifices made by the university community in achieving those savings, and emphasized that they will continue to monitor administrative cost increases and reductions to ensure that the university avoids unnecessary administrative costs.
Rick Cross, Commissioner of the state Department of Education, and UA President Mark R. Hamilton discussed with the board the Alaska Quality Schools Initiative, and its possible impacts on the university. UA Faculty Alliance President Lauren Bruce of UAA participated by sharing faculty perspectives regarding the impact of the initiative.
Regents approved a resolution in support of increases to federal need-based financial aid programs, and also passed resolutions of appreciation honoring student Regent Annette Nelson-Wright of Juneau whose term expires at the end of May, and C. Patty Kastelic, executive director for human resources for the UA system, who is retiring May 31.