Conversation with the President

Conversations with the President brought laughter and insight

At times it was funny, other times serious, but throughout this fall's "Conversations with the President" event, Statewide staff were treated to valuable insight into the major issues affecting the University of Alaska.

A large turn out of staff in both Anchorage and Fairbanks on Oct. 16 listened as moderator Chief Human Resources Officer Erik Seastedt asked UA President Pat Gamble staff-submitted questions during the sixth bi-annual event.

Kate Ripley, director of Public Affairs, introduced President Gamble and CHRO Erik Seastedt.

Progress and Change

"What motivates you to come to work everyday" was the question that launched this fall's discussion. For Gamble, the answer is to overcome challenges. He commented on the progress that has been made since he began, what his goals were when he started, and compared that to the work being done now and the greater challenges ahead.

Shaping Alaska's Future has been a huge part of this effort. When he met with the Board of Regents after he came on board as president in 2010, Gamble had a fairly short list of goals for the university system. Progress has been made on many of those, including an expansion of eLearning and work toward developing a common calendar and aligning General Education Requirements across the three universities. Some challenges, like expanding enrollment, remain today along with a comprehensive list of 23 "issues and effects" that comprise the Shaping Alaska's Future initiative and remain the top priorities for the system.

Gamble explained how he formed the Summit Team (which includes the chancellors, provosts, president and vice president of academic affairs and research) to help fast track systemwide changes. The collaboration between the three universities is unprecedented, Gamble said, and progress is being made throughout the system.

President Gamble holds up the list of priorities he began with in 2010, noting many successes and the greater challenges ahead.
Director of Benefits Erika Van Flein discusses the many benefits of a strong wellness program.

Budgets, Savings and Reorganization

While layoffs are not anticipated at Statewide this year, the budget outlook is challenging. State revenues are down, so budget planners are considering the possibility of additional cuts. For staff at Statewide, that means reductions in travel and discussion on further efficiency improvements, reductions and reorganizations.

Seastedt provided an update on efforts to draft regulations to accompany a proposed furlough policy. He has been working with a committee of staff from across the system to address concerns and help formulate implementation restrictions and controls prior to adoption of such a policy. Furloughs are not something anyone wants to see happen, but they are considered preferable to layoffs. Other options, such as volunteers who would take a 10- or 11-month contract, could help in a tight budget climates and help reduce negative impacts on all staff.

Gamble announced a plan to relocate the K-12 outreach program out of the Bower's Office Building up to the Butrovich. The move, along with 15 full-time employees, will likely impact multiple departments as space is re-evaluated and individuals are relocated to accomodate the additional workforce. The savings will be greater than $110,000 annually--well worth the effort.

Campus Health and Safety

Representatives from the federal Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights recently made site visits to Fairbanks, Anchorage, Juneau and Bethel as part of a compliance review evaluating the universites' handling of reports of sexual harassment and violence. The review also is looking at efforts to proactively protect students and educate staff, faculty and students on prevention. 

Gamble reported that, overall, the OCR reaction was very positive. They were pleased with the more than 11,000 pages of documentation that had been submitted prior to the visit, noting that it was better organized and presented than other universities reviewed thus far. Although sexual violence is a huge problem in Alaska, initial feedback is that our campuses are doing well providing services and properly handling cases. Results of the review will not be available for many months.

In November, a campus climate survey will be distributed to staff and students in an effort to accurately evaluate the prevalence of sexual harassment and violence in UA communities. The survey is explicit, and may be upsetting to some, but is entirely voluntary and 100 percent confidential. The goal is to evaluate needs, and improve services and outreach as necessary, to ensure the saftey of students and to make sure that sexual violence and harassment do not interfere in students' pursuit of higher education.

Tobacco use on campus is another important health topic and a tobacco/smoke free vote is scheduled to come before the Board of Regents in December. Gamble said that the time has come to take action on the issue. He spoke of his own history of tobacco use, and the many benefits of quitting.

In response to a question on the potential legalization of marijuana in the November election, General Counsel Mike Hostina pointed out that it is still illegal on the federal level. While the university would not engage in cracking down on use, it was noted that the use of marijuana is not condusive to effective studying nor appropriate at work.

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