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Dean's monthly updates

September 2008

When I began these monthly reports almost four years ago, my objective was to let you know my activities as dean so you would know that I was working for you during my travels around the state and nation. A few of you have suggested that you would prefer these reports were less like travel logs and more about addressing "how issues are resolved." I am happy to do that. As I sit in my hotel room tonight in Arlington, Virginia, where I am attending the annual University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) meeting, I will present how one issue is being resolved.

SFOS faculty in the Graduate Program in Marine Science and Limnology (GPMSL) are debating the hiring of new faculty. In deciding which new faculty to hire, I view the decision-making process as a multi-variable equation with several factors and weighting functions. Faculty input in one of the most important variables, but the input must be based upon the broader goals of the program and not personal preferences alone. The purpose of tenure track faculty is primarily to deliver our academic programs. Research is a very important component of science-based graduate degree programs, but not the only factor. Student demand is obviously an important factor along with graduate employment opportunities. Also to be considered is whether the current faculty in a discipline are working up to the full potential of their position. If we have faculty who have no students and are teaching little, it makes it more difficult to argue that we need new faculty to have students and teach classes. It can be a complex equation. My job as dean is to assess the information provided by the faculty, make sure the correct weighting factors are applied, and make a recommendation to the provost based upon faculty recommendations and needs of the program. The process is designed to assure that we receive broad input from the faculty and make an informed decision in the context of how best to move our program forward. If a decision is not one with which you agree, you will at least have had the opportunity to make your case to your colleagues to influence the process. In SFOS, this is how we resolve the faculty hiring issue. It would seem less erratic if I just unilaterally made the decision on who to hire, but the more complicated equation allow us to work together to assure all ideas are considered and the best decision is made. I hope this helps you understand the complicated decision-making behind our faculty hiring process.

Interim Chancellor Brian Rogers and I met on September 4 to discuss SFOS issues, especially those related to our new B.A. degree in Fisheries. He will attend our faculty meeting on October 11 to discuss his vision for UAF and how SFOS fits into the plan. One thing he would like us to do is to create a fisheries module for the Alaska Summer Research Academy (ASRA), a two week UAF summer science program for students entering grades 8-12.

On Saturday September 6, I attended a UAF retreat to discuss how to improve the UAF Honors Program. Dr. Channon Price has taken over as the director of the UAF program and many deans, directors, and faculty spent the day sharing ideas to improve the program. Dr. Gregory Lanier, Associate Dean of Honors and Interdisciplinary Studies, University of West Florida facilitated the discussion. His assessment of the resources devoted to the UAF honors program was that it was "shameful." Fortunately, UA Statewide has now added some funding for the program. Interim Chancellor Rogers has a son in the honors program - at UAA. I would guess that he has a vested interest in resolving the issues with the UAF honors program.

I spent September 15-18 in Anchorage resolving issues at the North Pacific Research Board (NPRB), the Rasmuson Foundation Fisheries Excellence Committee meeting, and addressing the University of Alaska Board of Regents. The NPRB decided to issue a request for pre-proposals for a Gulf of Alaska Integrated Ecosystem Research Program. The focus of the planned study is "How do environmental and anthropogenic processes, including climate change, affect various trophic levels and dynamic linkages among trophic levels, with particular emphasis on fish and fisheries, marine mammals and seabirds within the Gulf of Alaska?" With help from several of the other members, we managed to convince the board to include ship time in the funding for this new program. The original plan for this program included no funds for ship time.

On September 17, Undergraduate Fisheries Coordinator Trent Sutton, Fisheries Division Director Bill Smoker, Interim Chancellor Brian Rogers, and I joined the other members of the Rasmuson Fisheries Excellence Committee in reviewing the status of the expansion of our undergraduate fisheries program. Our five year target for fisheries undergraduates is to have 100 total students with 25 students entering each year. After the first year, we have 33 total students with 13 new students entering this year. We are one third of the way to the total student goal and half way to the new student number after only one year. Congratulations to SFOS Recruiting and Retention Coordinator Katie Murra and all who have been responsible for the significant improvement in student numbers in the fisheries degree program. On September 29, we received notification from Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities that the new Bachelor of Arts in Fisheries had been approved and could be offered effective spring semester 2009.

My last meeting in Anchorage was with the UA Board of Regents. I was asked by Regent Patricia Jacobson of Kodiak to present an update on the Alaska Region Research Vessel (ARRV). We are in phase 1 of this project and have received $4.7 million to refresh the ship design and move the project through to approval by the National Science Board in May 2009. The ARRV construction team, led by Seward Marine Center Director Dan Oliver, will undergo a Final Design Review (FDR) at the National Science Foundation the week of October 20. A major issue presented to the board is the need for an all-weather dock for the ARRV in Seward.

We continue to work with the City of Seward to find the funds for this needed facility. This expanded dock and support facility is important as NSF has stated clearly, "no dock, no ship." The following week, the National Science Board met in Fairbanks and I also provided them an ARRV update. I informed that the current cost estimate for the ARRV is $175,853,214. We all hope that several of the digits in this number are significant.

On September 24, we were delighted to host Dr. Richard Feely from NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) who presented two seminars. Dr. Feely is one of the leading experts on ocean acidification and was a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) who along with Al Gore was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change." Another IPCC member, Dr. Michael Schlesinger - a climate change expert from the University of Illinois Champagne-Urbana - also visited SFOS and presented a seminar on "Climate Change 101" on September 30. Thanks to hosts Jeremy Mathis and Sue Hazlett for making the talks by these distinguished speakers available for our faculty and students.

The issue of improving our abilities in distance education was on my agenda on September 29. GPMSL Program Head Katrin Iken and I attended a presentation at the UAF Center for Distance Education (CDE) in which John Kelley's MSL 111 (The Oceans) internet-based class was demonstrated. John is teaching the class to 23 students around Alaska using Blackboard and electronic communications. The CDE would like to work with SFOS faculty to move additional classes to the web and we will consider this issue at our faculty meeting in October.