August 25, at 3:30 p.m., the Dean of the School of Engineering Rob Lang walked into the office of Mike Driscoll, Executive Provost of Academic Affairs. An hour later, Associate Dean Grant Baker also walked into the office. Both men walked out with a letter of dismissal.
“Quite frankly, I was surprised by it. But now, I’m trying to work along with it. I can’t say that I’m pleased by the decision. I’m trying to honor it, by creating an alternate way where we can continue to advance the university,” Lang, who has been SOE dean for nine years, said.
Lang said that their work did fit with the vision of the university. Chancellor Tom Case disagreed.
“We felt that this change was necessary to keep the SOE on track. We determined that different leadership would be required to effectively harness the school’s faculty/staff energy and direct it in the most productive manner,” Case said.
The day after their dismissal, The School of Engineering Advisory Board passed a motion that praised the performance of both men. Case and Driscoll were also present, and both briefly spoke on the great performance of each dean.
“This resolution recognizes outstanding management of the School of Engineering by this sterling team. An imperative of the Board has been to respond expeditiously to Alaska’s urgent need for additional growth of engineering education. Dramatic enrollment gains and the new building initiative developed under their stewardship is directly responsive to that imperative.”
Lang specified some of the duo’s accomplishments: negotiation for a new engineering building, increased enrollment by three times over seven years, working with Dimond High School to form the engineering academy, creating the 1+ 3 program for schools outside Anchorage, and gaining industry approval.
At printing time, it was unclear where in UAA the deans would go.
“It’s hard to say at this point. They have removed us from our positions. We’re kind of in purgatory now, trying to come up with a solution of where we should go in the university,” Baker said.
The deans are drafting proposals for Driscoll and Case.
“Dean Baker and I are working with the Provost and Chancellor, and actively looking for other options for us at the university” Lang said.
Those involved did not go into specifics as to why leadership is being changed.
Lang said the decision was “in the realm of personal stuff.”
Tom Case was in back to back meetings, and responded via email.
“While external partnerships have flourished under Rob Lang and Grant Baker’s leadership, other internal issues have emerged that have hampered progress,” Case wrote.
As Dean, Lang did not have a teaching position at UAA. Baker is very popular with students.
“He’s one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. We made a class for a bike car because we didn’t like any of the upper division electives to graduate. One semester, we told him—Hey, we want to build a bike car—and he said, ‘Sure, find me some rules and find me a competition” then boom. We made a bike car. That kind of stuff, Baker did that to all his students. If you ask all of the students, they’ll all say the same thing. There’s not a single student who dislikes him,” Michael Blaht, a 2011 graduate, said.
Engineering student David Stransky said there’s speculation within the department that UAF actively fights UAA for research money, especially since UAA won increased funding for a new engineering building.
Interim Dean Orson Smith said that’s easy to believe, but that a battle for funding always occurs when resources are finite.
Smith was aware of previous controversies during the contest for the new building, as well as during the accreditation process.
“Controversies, challenges, public image, the process: I don’t think anything was going badly to my own knowledge. They just seemed to think that a different style would make it go better, ” Smith said.
After spending 20 years in the Army Corps of Engineers, Smith joined UAA, and has been a faculty member for the last 14 years.
Smith said he was undecided whether or not he would apply for the year long, national search for a permanent dean.
“I’m sure it’s going to be an interesting year,” Smith said.