Voice of Alaska: Community input important to university regents

  • By Jo Heckman
  • Saturday, October 29, 2016 6:58pm
  • Opinion

This is a critically important time for the University of Alaska and the Board of Regents. The past year has been one of significant change: Strategic Pathways, budget reductions, and the challenges that come with making sure our university is focused on the strategic areas that will help us grow in a sustainable manner. The concerns of our students about sexual misconduct, Title IX compliance, program changes, guns on campus and other issues, have dominated our attention and our past public testimony sessions, often taking the focus away from the great work and accomplishments happening every day on our campuses.

Undoubtedly, these are the reasons for the increased number of students, faculty and community members signing up to share their concerns, perspectives and thoughts during our public testimony sessions. As chair, I very much want to hear from every single person. But that was becoming increasingly difficult even though we expanded the time to take testimony during our regular meetings to accommodate more people. And while e-mailing and written testimony has always been available, we believed that we weren’t able to hear everyone in an acceptable and thoughtful manner.

In order to provide more time, the board decided to adopt a new format for public testimony. In September, we began hosting a two-hour public testimony call in session, the week before the full board meeting. We also added an informal gathering the first evening of our full board meeting to provide the public a chance to get to know the regents and speak personally with them on matters of concern. These changes allow people who cannot attend our meetings, or who cannot take time off work to testify, other opportunities to share their thoughts with us.

There are many people who care deeply about the university. Whether they are passionate about their local campus or a specific program, they want to be heard. We are a public board, and it is our responsibility to listen, and we want to hear all comments and perspectives.

As regents, we recognize that our financial climate has changed and we must look at what needs to be done to preserve who we are – a world class university – and refine what we offer without reducing quality.

Part of how we make these hard decisions and inform our board discussions is with input of our students, staff, faculty, alumni, business partners and from the community. While we do hear many common concerns over budget reductions, and individuals advocating for specific programs, we also hear wonderful things about our university.

Through public testimony we hear first-hand about great programs at all of our campuses, and stories about our successful students and accomplished faculty. These testimonies are very informative to the regents and help educate us about what is happening at our universities on a very personal level.

The expansion of public testimony and community engagement through audio testimony brings more Alaskans into these important conversations. You help us shape and guide education in Alaska and improve the University of Alaska’s service to our state.

At our November meeting we will be reviewing the university’s proposed 2018 operating and capital budgets, implementation plans for academic and administrative areas reviewed during phase one of Strategic Pathways along with many other topics. I hope you will take the opportunity to talk with us via phone on Oct. 31 from 4-6 p.m. and tell us what’s on your mind. If you are in Fairbanks on November 10, please join us for our evening gathering. I look forward to hearing from you.

Jo Heckman was appointed to the University of Alaska Board of Regents in 2011 and currently serves as chair. The phone number to call on Oct. 31 is 866-726-0757. Other information about the informal gathering in Fairbanks can be found at www.alaska.edu/bor/public-testimony.

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