CAS Dean Liszka leaves frontier for Empire State

Basking in his last Alaskan spring, Dr. Jim Liszka will join Plattsburgh State University of New York as Provost next fall. Leaving his position as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) at UAA after five years, Liszka reflected on his 31 years with the University.

Spanning positions from assistant professor of philosophy to interim vice Provost to dean, Liszka has seen the university through some of its greatest trials and tribulations.

Now as dean, Liszka’s office emotes a sense of grandeur. Located on the top floor of SSB, the corner suite overlooks the library with a mountain view. The walls are lined with shelves of books, and it even displays an artistic obelisk containing a shredded textbook by one of Liszka’s former students.

Photo By Daniel Jackson

A sincere man with a sly sense of humor, Liszka leaves a large footprint, having taught thousands of UAA students in his time here.

The Northern Light: In the past 31 years, how has UAA changed?


Dr. Jim Liszka: The big changes are that in the early 80’s, there was a community college and then the 4-year college here. Then, in the late 80’s, those two units merged. That created the kind of culture we have today at the university. We’re a rather unique institution in the sense that we’re a baccalaureate institution but we also offer technical degrees and other degrees you might see in a community college as well. We’re trying to serve both missions.

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I would say the other is in terms of the infrastructure. We were a relatively small campus in the 80’s and now we’ve grown the infrastructure considerably. The library was an extremely important building to have built. That made a huge difference and made a big impact on the campus.

I would say the second building that has had the biggest impact is the new science building. That will really change the face of research here at UAA.

A third thing that was extremely important was the development of the joint PhD program in psychology. That demonstrated that UAA was capable of delivering doctoral degrees.

TNL: What is your most memorable experience at the university?

Rather than claim any one thing, I would just say what has been remarkable about my experience at UAA is all the growth and change that I’ve seen in the 31 years. UAA has grown so much so fast that in some ways I can’t believe how fast it’s been growing. It’s really matured as an institution. It’s been very gratifying to see that.

I would say the other thing I really enjoyed here are the students. I think they’re really great students. I’ve been trying to calculate how many students I’ve taught, and it’s thousands of students here, it’s always just so much fun to run into students and see how successful they’ve become.

TNL: Why are you leaving UAA?

JL: I was nominated to a national program that is sponsored by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). It’s a program that’s intended to cultivate leadership in the academy. I joined a number of people from across the country that had an interest in becoming a provost.

There’s also a program for administrators who are interested in becoming presidents. Through that process, I learned a great deal about what it takes to become a provost and I was nominated for several positions, but SUNY at Plattsburg in particular attracted me, primarily because of its liberal arts emphasis.

So I applied and it was a good fit and I was offered the position and it was very, very difficult to make the decision, but my wife and I decided to take the positions we were offered.

TNL: What do you think the CAS has to offer that other universities or colleges around the country don’t? What makes CAS unique?

JL: I would say that we’re a strongly liberal arts college. I think that the fact that we have the natural and social sciences, the humanities and fine arts makes for an interesting synthesis of interests.

TNL: Do you think UAA graduates career-ready individuals?

JL: I do, I think that you can look at some of our top programs. For instance, our nursing program. They’re ready to go over to providence or other health institutions. Business students are ready. Our biology students, chemistry students, psychology students I think in general are prepared. We’re especially good at preparing students for the job.

Anchorage is a commerce center, there are lots of federal agencies in town that provide job opportunities for our students. For example, the Masters students in our anthropology program go to work for the National Parks Service, and other agencies. Biologists are in great demand by fish and wildlife agencies; chemistry students are highly employable.

TNL: What should UAA graduates be proud of?

JL: I would say that unlike most public universities, and certainly unlike most research universities, students here really have an opportunity for a strong connection and relationship with their faculty. So rather than having graduate students teach the introductory courses, they have the professors doing that.

The class size is also relatively small, relative to other large public institutions. And I think that the quality of instruction here is really outstanding. So you really are getting a good education here and it’s pretty economical in terms of the tuition costs.

I know that students are complaining about the recent raises in tuition, but still comparable nationally, we’re a pretty good deal here.

So you get first hand connection with the faculty, really excellent instruction, all at a fairly economical cost.

TNL: What is one thing you wish students at UAA knew?

JL: How really good the education is here at UAA. I’ve worked and studied in a lot of places, and UAA has a really high quality education.