Author: Evan Erickson

August 25, 2014 Evan Erickson

UAA released its final reports for the massive review process known as prioritization Aug. 13. The project, with many hours of faculty and staff input, examined and ranked the 313 academic programs and 178 support functions at UAA’s main campus to make the university “a stronger, more nimble and responsive university in the face of dwindling resources.”

August 25, 2014 Evan Erickson

Depending on when you’re reading this, you’re either:
a) Basking in satisfaction, having cast your ballot in the 2014 primary election
b) Soon-to-be basking in satisfaction of having cast your ballot in the 2014 primary election
c) Feeling ashamed for foregone voting
d) Not feeling much of anything

August 5, 2014 Evan Erickson

Tien-Chien Jen, whose abrupt resignation in May as dean of the College of Engineering had some scratching their chins, has filed a civil suit against the university, claiming he was wrongfully terminated. The 17-page complaint filed in Anchorage Superior Court June 24 asserts that Jen was denied procedural due process after being called to a…

July 22, 2014 Evan Erickson

A black bear family that had since early June been a familiar sight around UAA will not be returning. Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists on Thursday made the decision to euthanize the sow with two very young cubs that had become accustomed to life in the bustling U-Med district. According to KTVA, the…

July 22, 2014 Evan Erickson

UAA Chancellor Tom Case has announced that reports for the massive review process known as prioritization will be released Aug. 11.

In a July 15 email to staff and faculty the chancellor said reports will be accessible to the “internal campus community,” and that the release date coincides with faculty coming back on contract.

Assessment “templates” from both the Academic Task Force, assessing UAA’s academic programs, and the Support Task Force, looking at non-faculty held positions at the university, will be made available.

“I am confident that this worthy self-examination will make us a stronger, more nimble institution in the years to come,” Case wrote.

July 8, 2014 Evan Erickson

UAA’s 18-member Academic Task Force submitted its final report on program prioritization to Provost Elisha Baker on June 30. The report is the culmination of a massive review process begun in spring 2013 to place each of the over-300 programs at UAA into one of five categories ranging from “priority for higher investment” to “subject to further review, consider for reduction or phase out.”

The review had been characterized by rolling deadlines and faculty criticisms — among them, that prioritization wasn’t conducted in a transparent manner, that it was overly time-consuming for faculty with heavy workloads and that it was an attack on academic tenure.

In an email to faculty June 30, the task force acknowledged the challenges of prioritization.

“This process and its conclusions have been a source of consternation and concern, anxiety and angst. From the outset, some of our colleagues have spoken out against this process and its potential pitfalls. We are truly grateful to them as well,” the email reads.

UAA has said that the findings of program prioritization will be made public at some point.

Late last October, Provost Baker wrote in a draft of the post-prioritization process that the prospective release date for the chancellor’s final report is Jan. 30, 2015.

July 8, 2014 Evan Erickson

When in 2010 Jeanette DiPiero began searching for a food wagon to call her own, she didn’t plan on selling Sicilian food out of a miniature pirate ship. After finding Alaska didn’t have anything that suited her fancy, DiPiero scoured Craigslist in several Lower 48 states where she had family. In Merced, California, local character William…

June 24, 2014 Evan Erickson

After selecting another competitor on a contract put up for bid, Denali Alaskan Federal Credit Union will be withdrawing five ATMs from UAA’s main campus as of July 1. The contract, which called for  nine machines, including three in the newly built Alaska Airlines Center, has been awarded to Alaska ATM Service.

According to the AAS website, the new ATMs will process “a surcharge on all ATM surchargeable withdrawals regardless of the cardholder’s bank or credit card.”

Denali Alaskan claims to offer the largest Alaska ATM Alliance no-surcharge network of ATMs in the state.

June 24, 2014 Evan Erickson

Think back to a time before protected areas within population centers were all the rage, and you’ll understand how hundreds, if not thousands, of junked automobiles ended up stuck between a park and a wildlife refuge in Anchorage proper. It’s not immediately apparent that the 444-foot bluff below Kincaid Park’s motocross track is actually a…

June 10, 2014 Evan Erickson

After a slow start Thursday morning in UAA’s Gorsuch Commons, the 11-member University of Alaska Board of Regents opened the floor to public testimony. Vice president of the UAA Political Science Association, Ceezar Martinson stepped up to urge the board to reconsider its policy on concealed handguns. “It is our belief that the current policy…

May 20, 2014 Evan Erickson

Following an inspirational speech by civil engineering graduate Michael Ulroan at this year’s commencement ceremony, the College of Engineering now faces the challenge of finding a new person to head operations. Tien-Chien Jen, Ph.D., announced his resignation as dean of the UAA College of Engineering after serving one year in the position. The resignation, effective…

April 22, 2014 Evan Erickson

Like the ice cream sundae, chicken and waffles, or the Crab Louie salad, the exact origins of the Monte Cristo sandwich are a mystery. It is said to be a variation on a French ham sandwich called the croque-monsieur, but how it came to be battered in egg and dipped in sweet sauces is unclear….

April 15, 2014 Evan Erickson

There is a feeling of accomplishment for a student who is able to lock in the perfect class schedule, a harmonious balance struck in a vast sea of knowledge. In some cases, though, UAA students aren’t actually seeing all of the course sections that may become available.

Keeping certain course sections hidden, primarily those taught by adjunct faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences, until enrollment numbers reach a certain threshold, is what is known as rolling enrollment.

Though rolling enrollment has been in use at least as far back as the three previous deans in the CAS, it has recently received greater attention from some faculty.

Most of the rolling enrollment has been happening in the Art Department, where as of last Friday, 13 course sections listed in the fall 2014 class schedule were not visible to students registering for classes.

Professor of Photography Deborah Tharp recently discovered that two of the three sections of Beginning Photography she thought were available to students were actually being hidden.

“They didn’t tell me about this when I was making the schedule. This is the first time I’ve seen it,” Tharp said.

Tharp said Beginning Photography has seen consistently healthy enrollment throughout the last 20 years she has taught at UAA and doesn’t understand why she was not consulted about the changes.

Her proposed solution to the problem includes setting target numbers for enrollment for all courses, defining cancellation dates in cases where enrollment falls short and making it clear to students that if a course section does not meet the target enrollment it will be cancelled.

CAS Dean John Stalvey suggests that a combination of rolling enrollment and wait lists is an effective way to deal with the budgetary challenges facing UAA.

“The addition of wait list information to the use of our prior enrollment management practices is helping us to meet students’ course needs without wasting valuable resources,” Stalvey said in an email.

Tharp and other faculty have expressed concerns about the scheduling difficulties that could come with offering fewer sections, especially for incoming freshmen.

In an April Faculty Senate meeting, psychology professor Mari Ippolito stated, “In our department — I can’t speak for anyone else — if a class doesn’t fill and it’s empty, we cancel it ourselves and we combine sections ourselves once we know what students want. But right now we’re preventing them from telling us what they want.”

The Philosophy Department had several courses hidden prior to the current semester, but the effects were inconsequential according to department chair John Mouracade.

“For us it had no impact either way. The main concern is that it was discovered this was being done after it was done,” Mouracade said.

Whether rolling enrollments make sense for the College of Arts and Sciences as a whole remains to be seen.

April 8, 2014 Evan Erickson

Late last week the 11-member University of Alaska Board of Regents met in Kodiak to work through a lengthy agenda, and two of the motions passed are sure to make waves at all three universities in the UA system. One motion calls for a common academic calendar for all university campuses, including common daily schedules,…

April 8, 2014 Evan Erickson

Even procrastinators can be civically active, and polling stations around Anchorage remained open until 8 p.m. on municipal election night to accommodate last-minute votes. “If they don’t know, I’ll inform them what we’re voting on and why it’s important,” Anchorage resident Georgia Farnsworth explained as she staked out the Z.J. Loussac Library polling station last…

April 1, 2014 Evan Erickson

“The best debates are not the ones that conclude discussions, but begin them,” director of Seawolf Debate Steve Johnson said in closing following the vigorous British Parliamentary debate held in a packed East High Auditorium on March 20. The motion of the evening read, “No public funds should go to support competitive athletics in public…

March 26, 2014 Evan Erickson

Whether one calls it soda or pop, there are myriad forms of the sickly sweet syrup, and in Alaska some of the most popular soft drinks never see the light of day.
Several months ago flyers started cropping up around campus reading, “Faygo sodas from Detroit get yours now from Flight Deck Pizza.”

March 18, 2014 Evan Erickson

“Doobie or Not Doobie?: That is the Marijuana Question,” was one of the playful titles suggested to assistant professor Jason Brandeis of the UAA Justice Center for an upcoming public discussion at the Wendy Williamson Auditorium on March 5.

The problem for Brandeis, who acted as moderator, was that “marijuana legalization is a serious subject and a serious public policy issue,” and though many may find pot-related puns irresistible, the event ended up simply being titled “Time to Legalize?…

February 23, 2014 Evan Erickson

Running the risk of an unprofitable overlap of graduation and Christmas gifts, UAA students will have the chance to walk at the newly opened Alaska Airlines Center on Dec. 14, just after fall final exams week. The decision to host December and May commencements at the new arena was made at a meeting of the Chancellor’s Cabinet last Tuesday.
To address concerns that summer and fall graduates might not be interested in a fall ceremony, Student Affairs conducted a survey of students, which found 54 of 68 respondents supported the idea.
UAA Special Events Manager Bridgett Mackey, who chairs the Commencement Planning Committee, has been working with a special task force since October sharing information with the Chancellor’s Cabinet to get approval.
“It’s another thing that contributes to enforcing UAA as a community. To have it on campus really creates that front porch feeling,” Mackey said.
Mackey says one advantage of the Alaska Airlines Center is its greater opportunity for the staging of graduates in the arena prior to walking. Whereas past commencements at the Sullivan Arena have had students staged in the hallways or even outside, the Alaska Airlines Center has an auxiliary gym that can be used for that purpose.
Mackey herself remembers having to wait patiently outside the Sullivan the first time she walked.
The Alaska Airlines Center is a much smaller arena, and fall commencement may be necessitated by capacity restrictions. Previous ceremonies at the Sullivan Arena have seen 800–850 students on the floor at a time, not including faculty and orchestra. The new arena has a maximum floor capacity of 892, as well as significantly fewer seats available.
Fall commencement is common practice at schools all over the country, and there are pros and cons.
“I personally wouldn’t have a problem with it, but I think a lot of people might have an issue with vacations,” Fine Arts major Lisa Thayer said.
Fall and summer graduates may be less likely to participate in commencement if they need to wait until May to walk.
“You’ll be more likely to walk if you can walk when you graduate. Friends and family won’t have to wait as long either,” Geological Sciences major Stephen Warta said.
UAA has not held a fall commencement since the late 1980s when the university was known as UA,A before merging with Anchorage Community College.

January 28, 2014 Evan Erickson

Plagiarism has been the scourge of academia for centuries. But should every culprit be punished? When does plagiarism become an opportunity for teachers to teach?

A simple Google search would reveal that the paragraph above was lifted directly from an article in the Rhode Island College News. At UAA, plagiarism this blatant can earn stiff penalties, and according to a recently released report published by the Dean of Students Office, “Students of Concern and Their Behavior,” it has.

January 21, 2014 Evan Erickson

First, take the over 300 programs and 200 or so functions that constitute UAA and have staff and faculty describe their importance. Next, assemble two respective task forces culled from staff and faculty for the purpose of evaluating the responses.

January 14, 2014 Evan Erickson

“What do you think was the best idea ever hatched in Alaska politics?” KTVA-TV’s Rhonda McBride asked the three Alaska lieutenant governor candidates seated in front of her at last Tuesday’s public forum held in the downtown Anchorage YWCA.

“I brought a copy with me. It’s the Alaska state constitution. It’s an act of genius,” answered State Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, waving a pocket-sized edition of the document in the air.

December 10, 2013 Evan Erickson

As of Jan. 1 UAA will no longer grant credit for College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams for Western Civilization I and II, and United States History I and II. Western Civilization I and II and either United States History I or II are general education requirements for all Bachelor of Arts degrees in the College of Arts and Sciences, the largest college in the university system.

November 26, 2013 Evan Erickson

USUAA and Alaska state legislators persevered through a handsome ice storm to sit down for lunch Friday afternoon in the Student Union Den. All but two guests were able to attend the event, which was cut short by campus closures.

November 26, 2013 Evan Erickson

It touches a nerve to consider that every year a certain number of students at institutions of higher education take their own lives. Success and failure are well defined for the average college student and it may be convenient to chalk up desperation to the latter.

Last Thursday UAA took part in the web seminar “Removing Suicidal Students From Campus: The Significance of Recent Changes in Federal Policy.” The changes in federal policy refer to a shift in Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act that redefines what a “direct threat” is, excluding those considering self-harm. Schools can now be sued for discrimination for removing suicidal students from campus or not having services in place to treat these students.

The 2013 National Survey of College Counseling Centers found that 82 percent of college counseling clinicians surveyed noticed “increases in the number of clients with severe psychological problems.”

Around 90 different schools, ranging from private and public universities to community colleges, logged into Thursday’s webinar, hosted by the higher education training company Innovative Educators. Mary-Jeanne Raleigh of the University of North Carolina Pembroke addressed the national audience accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation while responding to questions over a live chat.

Raleigh talked about how schools can distinguish between direct and indirect threats and what obstacles may stand in the way of a student seeking help on campus. Emergency situations where students may be referred for hospitalization when Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act , or FERPA, protections may not apply were also covered.

Suicide is a perennial issue in Alaska. UAA’s recently hired CARE Team coordinator Lisa Terwilliger, who enrolled the school in the webinar, will continue to educate faculty and staff on the importance of these issues.

Another new hire, Director of Residence Life Ryan Jasen Henne, found the presentation to be valuable.

“There is the challenge of looking out for individual students, but also how they affect the other 900-plus students in residence at UAA,” Henne said.

In October 2011 the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights found Michigan’s Spring Arbor University to be in violation of the new regulation for requiring a student with a mental health disability who had voluntarily withdrawn to meet certain conditions for readmission.

Just as the ADA Title II regulations previously included language addressing self-harm, the UAA Student Code of Conduct still contains a violation, which reads “conduct which causes personal injury.” Director of Student Conduct and Ethical Development Michael Votava said UAA is working on removing this clause from the code.

A 2011 study by the University of Virginia found that suicide ranked as the second-leading cause of death among college students ages 18-24, but also found these figures fell significantly below the national average for the same age group.


November 5, 2013 Evan Erickson

Faculty and administration are working to iron out the kinks in the juggernaut that is prioritization. Many details of the massive assessment of programs and services at UAA are still undecided, but several decisions have been reached following motions passed by the faculty Senate.

October 29, 2013 Evan Erickson

As Alaskan oil reserves dwindle, belts will require tightening and the state will take a close look at budgets. The University of Alaska is young, and just as a malnourished child may suffer effects into adulthood, the university may suffer in the long-term if it doesn’t find the best use of an inevitable decrease in funding.

October 22, 2013 Evan Erickson

The bustle slowed to a murmur this past May as UAA students broke away from class loads and many faculty and staff members disappeared for the summer. While it didn’t seem like much was going on, radical changes were being implemented within the College of Arts and Sciences. Twenty-eight administrative positions were to be eliminated, and the 24 departments that comprise the CAS would be grouped under four different divisions: Humanities, Social Sciences, Fine Arts and Math/Natural Sciences. A centrally located hub would oversee the operations of each of the four divisions.

The first mention came in April, but the change was officially announced at the monthly CAS Council of Chairs and Directors meeting May 10. According to several faculty present, it was only in the final minutes of the meeting that the new hub system was announced, leaving little time for discussion.

An apology letter was emailed May 13 to the CAS chairs and directors on behalf of Dean of CAS John Stalvey.

In the letter Stalvey states, “I want to apologize for rushing out of the meeting on Friday. I made a mistake in allowing meetings to be scheduled back-to-back on Friday. … For those of you who are available, I have reserved the CAS conference room at 11 a.m. on Wednesday May 15 to provide you information on the reorganization of the CAS Academic Support Staff.”

In the meantime faculty and staff who were still on campus scheduled an impromptu meeting for that same Wednesday at noon to voice their concerns about their lack of involvement in the change.

Soon after, the various administrative assistants throughout the CAS were told that their positions would be eliminated June 30 and that they could apply for new jobs within the CAS and elsewhere in the university.

The university rehired nearly all of the displaced administrative assistants during the summer. There was a certain amount of shuffling as administrators who had worked in a single department were now dealing with entire divisions — some in entirely different divisions than they had come from. Several administrators became hub academic advisers.

According to Stalvey, along with the goal of increasing the number of academic advisers in the college, there was also a financial aspect to the change.

“The change from administrative assistants freed up approximately $325,000,” Stalvey said.

Stalvey also said about half of the money went into hiring additional academic advisers and another $100,000 went into other positions in the CAS.

CAS Academic Coordinator John Mun says the hub advising system is working on being more effective in identifying students who may benefit most from advising.

“Division-wide advisers are more aware of GER and overall requirements. It’s allowing us to do more pro-active outreach in contacting students,” Mun said.

UAA’s College of Arts and Sciences website lists the new academic advisers and positions in the hub’s and dean’s office, but the website has no mention of the hub change having happened.

Stalvey became CAS dean in 2012 and says he didn’t arrive from his previous job at Kent State University expecting to implement major changes at UAA. Stalvey explained that the budget for the CAS necessitated the change.

“By June I knew resources weren’t going to grow,” Stalvey said.

As for the model that would eventually become the hub, Stalvey says it was an ongoing process over the 2012-13 academic year.

“We weren’t settled on it in the fall. I believe it was after the first of the year. The reason I told folks in April was it was being considered by UA system-wide Human Resources,” Stalvey said.

“It was crazy to do it when everybody was away. They should have asked us in Fine Arts,” said associate music professor Karen Strid-Chadwick.

Stalvey said it would have been much more difficult to implement the changes during the school year and is clear about his responsibilities in the CAS.

“The curriculum is the responsibility of the faculty. The administrative structure is the responsibility of the dean,” Stalvey said.

The CAS is the largest college in the entire University of Alaska system as well as being physically very long. The divisional hubs for some departments are more than a half-mile distant. The problem was addressed with the addition of several satellite offices but faculty still need to adjust to not having dedicated administrative help in their individual departments.

“We have somebody working in our office who replaced (previous administrator) Erin Day. I don’t know when I ask her a question if she’s on our time or someone else’s,” said assistant journalism professor Elizabeth Arnold.

Some welcome the hub.

“I think it’s been a wonderful change. I’m one of those who thought the change was needed and that it was a good change. The position descriptions were more clearly laid out,” said biological sciences professor Loren Buck.

The last time a hub system was implemented at UAA was in 1998 with the College of Business and Public Policy, a much smaller college centrally located in Rasmuson Hall.

In its first semester, the long-term success of UAA’s most recent hub remains to be seen.


October 22, 2013 Evan Erickson

In spring 2012 the Northern Light mourned the loss after seven years of the UAA Housing & Recreation Activities program in an editorial chastising the university’s budgetary reasoning.

Now a group of students and faculty is hoping to bring back outdoor opportunities — not only to students who live on campus but to everyone at UAA. This time around the money would come from a student fee.

About a dozen students and one faculty member met Oct. 11 to share ideas on the types of things that might be possible with the fee. Professor of health, physical education and recreation T.J. Miller, a veteran of the previous program, was there to lend his expertise.

“I helped create it (the previous program) in Housing & Recreation Activities. It’s sort of a revival of that idea, but available to all students, staff and faculty,” Miller said.

One of the ideas is a shuttle bus to Alyeska resort for a day of skiing and snowboarding at a fraction of the cost. There is also mention of hosting lectures by outdoor experts.

USUAA Vice President Cassie West has designated the group as an ad-hoc committee, meaning they can now set to work drafting a bill to appear on the ballot for the spring 2014 UAA Student General Election.

The committee is relying on feedback to determine whether students would be willing to pay a fee, and if so, what types of activities they are most interested in. Students, staff and faculty are asked to take part in the short survey at


October 11, 2013 Evan Erickson

Last Thursday the Alaska Supreme Court traveled to Barrow to hear oral arguments in a lawsuit brought against the State of Alaska and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. The plaintiffs are asking the courts to rule that the atmosphere is a public trust resource as a way of compelling the state of Alaska to regulate its carbon emissions.

Students and members of the community packed the Barrow High School auditorium to observe the judicial process as part of Alaska’s Supreme Court LIVE program.

Oregon-based nonprofit Our Children’s Trust and Eagle River attorney Brad De Noble represent the six young plaintiffs.

“Our Children’s Trust has supported youth in the filing of legal actions in all 50 states and against the federal government to compel reductions of CO2 emissions that will meaningfully reverse global warming,” states the group’s press release.

The arguments heard Thursday in Barrow are part of an appeal process to bring the suit back to trial court after Anchorage Superior Court Judge Sen Tan dismissed the original suit in 2012. Tan’s ruling was based on the political question doctrine, which says courts only have the authority to hear and decide legal questions, not political ones.

“When the legislative and executive branches are violating the law it’s the responsibility of the courts,” said Julia Olson, executive director of Our Children’s Trust.

The public trust doctrine protects natural resources for public use and requires the government to maintain them as necessary. Legal uses of public trust go back well over 100 years, but recently environmental groups have used the doctrine effectively in the fight against perceived human-induced climate changes.

In the 2012 case Angela Bonser-Lain, et al. v. Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas district court judge Gisela Triana ruled “the public trust doctrine is not exclusively limited to water, but all natural resources.”

Some scientists believe that 350 parts per million is the maximum amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide the earth can withstand without triggering runaway climate change. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, global CO2 is now hovering around 400 ppm. The lawsuit against the state of Alaska calls for a 6 percent reduction in state carbon emissions.

Two of the six plaintiffs in the suit, Nelson Kanuk and Katherine Dolma, were present for the hearing in Barrow.

Kanuk, 19, is from Kipnuk, a village of around 600 people in southwestern Alaska. He has become the face of the group’s Alaska actions. A short documentary about Kanuk is featured on the Our Children’s Trust website. Nelson’s village and his family’s home are being threatened by severe erosion he believes to be a consequence of rapid human-induced climate change.

“I thought being able to sit during the hearing was a good opportunity to understand what we’re facing. If the courts agree to the atmosphere being a public trust, hopefully there could be a climate reaction policy plan assisting villages,” Kanuk said.

Kanuk was spurred to action when as a high school sophomore he attended a 2011 conference of the Alaska Association of Student Government in Cordova. There he met another high school student, Alec Loorz, who was the plaintiff in a similar suit against the federal government also citing the public use doctrine.

“I think it shows a lot of courage. It shows these young people are feeling empowered in taking on the state of Alaska,” UAA Alaska Native Studies Director Maria Williams said.

Arguments made Thursday on behalf of the state of Alaska acknowledged the gravity of atmospheric issues but continued to emphasize the political question doctrine.

“We think the superior court got it right. The policy decisions on what to do about greenhouse gases is something for the legislature to decide,” said Steve Mulder Alaska assistant attorney general for environment.

The six young plaintiffs have at least several months before they will learn whether their appeal was successful. Federal and state governments will continue to grapple with these tough issues in the meantime.