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January 2010 Report from the SFOS Dean

What better way to start the new year than in the Big Easy.  After spending the Christmas holidays in Mississippi (where it snowed and was 12 degrees at one point) I traveled a short 360 miles to New Orleans to participate in the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Advanced Development for Deans conference on January 7 and 8.  SFOS Development Officer Teresa Thompson traveled over 4,000 miles to attend the same conference.  We spent two days learning how deans can be significantly engaged in development activities, considering how advisory boards can be used to enhance fundraising activities, and exploring the complexities of developing relationships with potential donors.  Teresa and I found the discussions very useful by providing new ideas and reinforcing that our current SFOS development plan has the right goals and approach.  While we were in New Orleans, we had the opportunity to meet with former UAF Associate Vice Chancellor for Development Judyth Wier.  Judyth returned to Louisiana from Alaska over a year ago and has just accepted the position of President of the University of New Orleans Foundation.

Chancellor Brian Rogers and Vice Chancellor for Administrative Services Pat Pitney discussed the UAF budget with the Provost Council members on January 13. The FY10 (current year) budget has been difficult to balance centrally due to salary increases, increased fuel costs and a large number of tuition waivers.  UAF receives only about 60% of salary and benefit increases from UA Statewide.  The balance must be covered by reducing costs elsewhere.  In FY10, SFOS had its budget reduced by 2%, 1% for the performance-based budgeting pool and 1% to help meet central UAF costs.  We learned that we will have another 2 to 4% budget reduction in FY11 to help cover under-funded pay raises and increased health care costs.  UAF contributions to faculty and staff health insurance have increased from $25 million in FY02 to $58 million in FY09.  SFOS unit leaders are working on plans to absorb the anticipated budget reductions without diminishing our ability to deliver our high quality programs.

SFOS Conversations was held on January 14 with participants from most SFOS locations.  Seward Marine Center Director Dan Oliver provided an update on the Alaska Region Research Vessel that we are constructing for the National Science Foundation.  The vessel will be called the R/V 'Sikuliaq,' pronounced [see-KOO-lee-auk.]  'Sikuliaq' is an Inupiaq word meaning "young sea ice."  The Chancellor confirmed this month that Seward will be the home port for the Sikuliaq. National Ocean Sciences Bowl Coordinator Phyllis Shoemaker reported that this year's Tsunami Bowl will have 23 or 24 high school teams participating with 12 of the teams from communities off of the road system.  We continue to seek private funding to support the Tsunami Bowl.

The first Alaska Marine Gala was held at the Dena’ina Center in Anchorage on the evening of January 17.  The black-tie affair was hosted by the Alaska SeaLife Center with over 500 people in attendance.  I dressed in my tuxedo for only the second time in six years in Alaska.  A committee chaired by SFOS Advisory Council member Arliss Sturgulewski gave several awards.  Award categories included Lifetime Achievement, Ocean Literacy, Ocean Media, Marine Research, and Stewardship and Sustainability.  SFOS sponsored the Ocean Media Award that was won by Elizabeth Arnold of National Public Radio.  Former SFOS dean and Professor Emerita Vera Alexander was a winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award, along with Sen. Ted Stevens.  Professor of Fisheries Gordon Kruse won the Marine Research Award.  Professor Tom Weingartner and Associate Professor Russ Hopcroft were also in contention for the research award.  It was a great night for our school and UAF.  You can see all the award winners at http://www.alaskasealife.org/alaskamarinegala/awards.html.

The Alaska Marine Science Symposium was held in Anchorage January 18-21.  An estimated 700-800 people attended the event, which included opening remarks by Alaska Senator Mark Begich, marking the first time in the event's history that a U.S. senator has attended in person.  Many SFOS faculty staff and students participated.  I was the chair for the Gulf of Alaska plenary session on Monday afternoon.  Fully half of the presenters in my session were SFOS faculty or students.  As we expected, our graduate students won most of the student awards at the meeting–four out of six of the awards received.  Both best poster awards went to our students: Jill Seymour (master's, advisor Dr. Lara Dehn) and Nathan Stewart (Ph.D., advisor Dr. Brenda Konar).  Our students also won two of the four presentation awards: Mayumi Arimitsu (master's, advisor Dr. Nicola Hillgruber) and Elizabeth Siddon (Ph.D., advisors Dr. Nicola Hillgruber and Franz Mueter).  Several other SFOS students gave fantastic presentations and could have easily won.  But, I am sure the committee did not wish to have all the winners from UAF.

The Pollock Conservation Cooperative Research Center (PCCRC) Advisory Board also met in Anchorage January 21-22, the same week as the symposium.  The board convened at our Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program offices and heard research reports from SFOS faculty (Atkinson, Castellini, Criddle, Kruse, Mathis, Oliveira, Quinn, Rosenberger, Springer and Winsor) and students (Katie Palof, Sara Miller, and Kray VanKirk) funded by the PCCRC. The companies of the Pollock Conservation Cooperative ( American Seafoods, Arctic Storm, Glacier Fish Company, Starbound, and Trident Seafoods) have donated over $10 million to SFOS over the last ten years.  We have used these funds to establish a research endowment to fund the Ted Stevens Distinguished Professor of Marine Policy, to provide student fellowships and to fund over $4.0 million in faculty research.  The donations place the Pollock Conservation Cooperative among the largest private contributors to the University of Alaska since its inception in 1917.  You can read our press release on their donations at http://www.sfos.uaf.edu/news/story/?ni=295.

After a few days in the office, I was back to Anchorage on Wednesday, January 27, to attend the annual SFOS unit directors retreat January 28-29.  Each January, SFOS unit leaders gather to review the accomplishments of the last year and plan our activities for the coming year.  Because of the anticipated budget reduction, we decided not to initiate any new faculty hiring with SFOS general funds (Fund 1).  We also discussed our plan to advocate with the Alaska Legislature for permanent funding for our Marine Advisory Program faculty in soft-money positions.  The $614,000 SFOS request in the UA Board of Regents was not included in the budget that Governor Parnell submitted to the legislature.  MAP Leader Paula Cullenberg and Cordova MAP faculty member Torie Baker traveled to Juneau January 21-22 and met with 14 different legislators or staff members.  On January 21, Paula and Torie also made a presentation to the legislative Fisheries Caucus that is organized by Rep. Alan Austerman from Kodiak.  You can listen to the entire session at http://www.ktoo.org/gavel/new/player.cfm?evid=FISH100121A.  We have heard that the Governor's office has received a number of letters and phone calls about our funding request.  Rep. Austerman asked that I attend the Fisheries Caucus in the near future to discuss the expansion of the undergraduate fisheries degree program.  We have strong support from the fishing industry around the state and are confident that our MAP request will be funded.

The spring academic semester is off to a great start.  We now have 54 undergraduate fisheries students compared to 51 at the beginning of the fall semester.  Word of our undergraduate program is spreading and the advertising campaign coordinated by SFOS Public Information Officer Carin Stephens and Recruiting and Retention Officer Katie Murra Straub is bringing significant attention to our SFOS programs.  You will hear even more announcements on Alaska Public Radio in the coming months.

Have a good semester.

Denis