The UA Board of Regents elected John Davies as their new chair during the board’s meeting on Nov. 8. Davies is following former chair Gloria O’Neill in office. He has been serving on the board since 2015 after Gov. Bill Walker appointed him as a regent. The board elected Regent Sheri Buretta as vice chair.
The board chair is responsible for the establishment and elimination of board committees, to which he can appoint members and committee chairs. The officers of the board, including the position of the chair, are elected annually by a majority vote, according to the board’s bylaws.
Before becoming regent and board chair, Davies had been affiliated with the UA system in a number of ways.
“I actually started as a student in 1967 at the Geophysical Institute [at UAF],” Davies said.
Originally from Maryland, Davies came to Alaska for the work at the Geophysical Institute and the opportunity to “climb mountains,” as he said. He received his Master of Science in geophysics from UAF.
After the completion of his doctorate, Davies spent some time at Columbia University in New York as a research professional. He returned to his Alaskan alma mater in 1981 to work for the Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks. In addition, he became a research professor at UAF.
“My whole life in Alaska has – in one way or another – been associated with the University of Alaska,” Davies said. “The university is important to the state, it’s important to me personally, and so I wanted an opportunity to help guide the university… from the Board of Regents’ point of view.”
Davies’s resume also includes a decade in the Alaska Legislature. He served five terms as a Democrat in the Alaska House of Representatives from 1992 to 2002. The board chair hopes that his political experiences, as well as his ties to UAF, will be helpful in his new position.
“I can see the university from a variety of perspectives. From having been a member of the legislature, I can also see how the university fits into the state budget,” Davies said.
In his new position, he said he wants to “continue the focus on the goals of the university” and to “achieve a relationship with the new legislature and the new governor.”
“There’s a joint perception that the university is one of the best investments that the state of Alaska can make. If Alaska wants to succeed, we need to have a strong university to help make that happen,” Davies said.
Pointing to the low rate of Alaskan high school students deciding to stay in-state for higher education, he highlights the importance of work with younger students.
“We need to work closely with the people in the rest of the education field to… change the idea around higher education,” Davies said.
The Board of Regents also approved the budget for the upcoming year in their meeting on Nov. 8. In the fiscal year of 2020, the board wants to focus on several specific goals, Davies said. The commercialization of research is also going to play a role in this.
“We want to continue to focus on is being a world-class research university,” Davies said.
Other goals include the graduation of more Alaska-trained teachers and health care professionals, facility maintenance, making compensation for staff and faculty more competitive and increasing efficiency across the UA system.
“The university is committed to helping our governor create a more vibrant Alaska, build an educated workforce and partner with his administration to meet the needs of our state,” UA President Jim Johnsen said in a press release. “The university has to play a key role in contributing to the well-being of Alaska and we work diligently to uphold that duty.”