The University of Alaska Fairbanks has been the state’s flagship college campus for almost 100 years, and soon it may again have a permanent chancellor. Budget woes caused the delay in finding a permanent replacement for departed Chancellor Brian Rogers, who resigned in August 2015. And though interim Chancellors Mike Powers and Dana Thomas have served the campus well since then, a permanent chancellor will give the institution clarity of direction and stability going forward at a time when those qualities are sorely needed.
Former Chancellor Rogers, who had served since 2008, left his post in August 2015 after the first year of strong legislative pressure to reduce the system’s budget. The resignation came as a shock; not only was Chancellor Rogers well regarded in the community, but he also was considered a leading candidate to take over as president of the entire university system from departing President Patrick Gamble. In announcing his resignation, Chancellor Rogers cited health issues brought on by the stress of office, stemming not only from the budget pressure but also UAF’s issues relating to compliance with advising requirements for NCAA athletes.
The intervening year and four months for UAF and other University of Alaska Fairbanks campuses has indeed been challenging. Two years of reduced budgets for the institution resulted in the consideration and later rejection of single accreditation across the university’s campuses. That proposed shift, considered as a cost-saving measure, caused the university to drop a nationwide search for a permanent chancellor after three finalists, all of them from outside Alaska, had already been selected. This year, an internal university report suggested that the savings from single accreditation would not be nearly as pronounced as expected, and there would be considerable risks of negative impacts that would outweigh any potential savings.
Accordingly, after strong work by interim chancellors Mike Powers and Dana Thomas, UAF is once again beginning a search for a permanent chancellor. This should be a positive for the campus. Though both Mr. Powers and Mr. Thomas have done good work for UAF, more continuity of effort would help that work take root. When Mr. Powers was interim chancellor, for instance, he announced a new focus on Title IX compliance and support of potential victims of domestic violence and sexual assault on campus. And though UAF has certainly made noticeable strides in adopting an attitude condemning those problems, recent allegations by students going through the Title IX process would be a good place for a permanent chancellor to focus and provide a sustained change for the institution.
The search for a chancellor will be nationwide, though strong consideration will be given to applicants who have in-state experience. That’s wise, as the university’s budget level appears far from settled, and much work will need to be done making changes under President Jim Johnsen’s Strategic Pathways plan. As the university approaches its centennial, UAF should remain the system’s flagship campus for many years to come, and a permanent chancellor will help lead the way.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,