Student forums illuminate chancellor candidates

Spencer Tordoff / Web Editor

Since Friday, March 25, four finalists for the role of UAF Chancellor have made their respective cases at a series of forums for school staff, students and the local community. Though sparsely populated, the events gave students the opportunity to ask the prospective chancellors about issues important to the student body. Full recordings of all chancellor candidate forums, as well as links to feedback forms for each candidate, can be found at Feedback must be submitted by 5 PM, Friday March 8.

Tony Haymet addressed students on March 25. Currently Director and Vice Chancellor of Oceanography at University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Haymet has experience with government and private companies with focuses on ocean and environmental research. However, Haymet started his career as a scientist before becoming an administrator.

“Someone said it was my turn to do some administration,” said Haymet. “I’ve been waiting for my turn to end ever since.”

Though his background is in research rather than leadership, Haymet highlighted his experience in financial crisis, drawing parallels to UAF’s current circumstances.

Haymet said he had been contacted by recruiters for other institutions in more stable circumstances, but that he was interested in coming to UAF because he felt like he could make a difference.

“I’ve dedicated my life to public universities because that’s what I believe in,” Haymet said.

Sandra Woodley spoke to students on March 29, emphasizing her experiences as a non-traditional student.

“I’ll probably be the only 90-year old woman still paying off her student loans,” Woodley said of earning her degree.

Woodley served as President of the University of Louisiana system from 2013 until her resignation at the end of 2015. However, Woodley acknowledged the need for long-running leadership at UAF.

“Whoever comes in as your Chancellor needs to stay for a long time,” Woodley said.

Among other topics, Woodley specifically addressed the needs of non-traditional and returning students as one of her priorities.

“What may work for your student right out of high school… is much different from what [nontraditional] students may need,” Woodley said.

M. Duane Nellis spoke on March 31, after being delayed by the eruption of Pavlof Volcano in the Aleutian Islands. Nellis most recently served as President of Texas Tech University from 2013 until the start of this year.

“I’d want to make a commitment here. It’s not like looking at this as ‘okay I’m going to get this job and then use it as a springboard to get somewhere else,'” said Nellis. “I think you need someone who’s really committed here.”

Nellis indicated that he would be planning to spend 5 to 7 years as Chancellor.

Support for first-generation, disadvantaged and non-traditional students is a priority for Nellis.

“Land grants were created for the democratization of higher education to all,” Nellis said. “We want to make sure that we have the support programs for their success.”

He further emphasized that the role of the university and its administration should be to serve students.

“Students are first, really. That’s why we’re here,” Nellis said.

Nellis concluded saying that he was impressed by his visit to UAF.

“You should be very proud of this institution,” Nellis said. “I see a very bright future for UAF in the next five to ten years.”

Laura Woodworth-Ney spoke on April 1. She is currently Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Idaho State University. Woodworth-Ney has lived in the Pacific Northwest, including Alaska, for her entire life, and has worked at ISU for the past 17 years.

Woodworth-Ney said that, despite the current concerns with the budget, UAF leadership needs to be looking toward future goals.

“Do we want to be the premier Arctic research institution ten years from now?” Woodworth-Ney said. “We are today.”

Woodworth-Ney noted that the focus on research by legislators can result in the cutting of humanities programs, and that administrators should advocate to the legislature for these programs.

“As a humanities scholar myself, I am highly aware of that problem,” Woodworth-Ney said.

Woodworth-Ney added that humanities programs should play to the strengths of each campus, acknowledging that UAF would probably not be noteworthy for researching “medieval literature.”

Asked about alternative means of funding, Woodworth-Ney said that pursuing private partnerships and utilizing student talent are key, but should not distract from the university’s core mission.

“The role of the institution…is not to compete with the private sector,” Woodworth-Ney said.

Woodworth-Ney concluded her session by thanking the attendees for their participation.

“Students have the best questions,” said Woodworth-Ney. “Don’t tell the faculty.”

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