President Hamilton’s State of the University address

The following is a transcription of University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton’s annual State of the University address delivered to the Alaska State House and Senate Finance Committees in Juneau Feb. 3. It has been edited for length. If you would like to listen to the complete speech go to KTOO.org/gavel/.

There was a story about an admiral that got up every morning and went to a safe and he opened the safe and he took out a single card. He read it and put it back in safe and went about the business of running the ship. People couldn’t wait for him to get transferred because they just couldn’t wait to see what was in that safe. Well, he did get transferred and they took out the card and what it said was: “Port is left, starboard is right.”

They story refers to something in this Super Bowl season you’ve probably heard Vince Lombardi said. He said: “If you can block and tackle, you can play with anyone.”

Now, we think that’s your university…Our success has come and will continue to come by getting everyone in the game. But it all starts here.

The state is in the game. This is the seventh consecutive year that the governor has put into his budget the full Board of Regents request…The legislature has funded us every year. Now, it’s maintenance-level funding but you’ve stuck with us. You gave me money when oil was $9 a barrel. And you started it, here…

Our students are in the game. We have half of our high school graduates now going to college. That’s up from 44 percent. And half of those are coming to the university. That’s up from 40 percent. Our retention of baccalaureate-seeking freshmen is up to 72 percent moving into their sophomore year. That’s higher than the national average for open-admission universities.

Retention of our Alaska Scholars is in excess of 80 percent. Students are choosing the University of Alaska. We are up 35 percent in the high-demand job programs that you directed us to highlight. Alaska native first-time freshmen enrollment is up 53 percent over the last 5 years. And graduates are choosing Alaska. Eighty-six percent of the Alaska Scholars we have graduated to date…are at work in Alaska.

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And I’ve got 1,550 more in that pipeline coming to change this state…Their attendance has meant a significant increase in tuition revenue, up from $48 million in the year 2000 to $77 million today.

And Alaskans…are in the game. Between ’01 and ’04, private giving to the university is up 115 percent. And corporate giving is up 35 percent…What this has meant to us is the UA Foundation, which had about $20 million in 1989…today is $130 million, allowing them to distribute nearly $10 million to the university…

And the university is in the game. We have to be. The 5 percent we’ve averaged in increased state funding is maintenance-level. We have to generate more…I remind people that collaboration doesn’t mean “talking together”—that’s convocation. Collaboration means “laboring together”…

In the military, you are enjoined to discover the center of gravity. On offense, it’s that portion of an enemy’s formation the destruction of which will lead to the collapse of the whole. And on defense, it says if you have something upon which everything depends, you’d better defend it…We are out-front in so many areas.

The Board of Regents has directed that we spend $25 million on maintenance every year. Now, that’s not enough to address the nearly $60 million worth of depreciation that is assessed against our facilities, but it’s way out in front…for being accountable…

My staff, as it turns out, can do anything. They’re not just great workers, they care. Forty-nine percent of my statewide staff contributed to the university last year. The national average is 17 percent. But believe me, they’re more than three times as good…

In 1862, before we were even a territory, the Morrill Land Grant Act, signed by President Lincoln, put forth a radical vision…The Morrill Act dealt primarily with rural Alaska, primarily with agriculture, 60 percent of America was agricultural in 1862. Today, it’s about 2 percent, and universities have wandered off into different focuses. But we have embraced a broader agenda addressing economic, social and environmental issues in our rural areas…We have developed an agenda that is closely tied with our geographic location and deals with Alaskan issues…I believe the University of Alaska is closer to the original intent of the Morrill Act than any land grant college in this country. Now, we have challenges, none of them are new to you. Healthcare costs rising at a minimum of 15 percent, facilities’ cost, predicted ‘tightness’ in federal dollars.

We had an initial enrollment of part-time students. Our student body is changing…It’s small but we’re seeing a drop-off in the number of individuals who are taking one course or two…There are a number of factors…it deals with economy, it deals with affordability. We even think higher gas prices has stopped some of our commuting students to our rural campuses…it’s a challenge, but if you’re going to be open-admission, multi-purpose, you’d better be able to take care of the part-time student.

We’re asking for another maintenance-level budget but I want you to consider more. I want you to consider an investment in research. Research is an industry all by itself. Research eventually will create other industries…

“Stop the brain drain,” that’s what you told me to do. And it’s happening…but its time to move to a new level. And like everything else, it begins here…Your leadership is central. You represent all of Alaska. The university is not just waiting for your funding; we are waiting for your charge. And we’re prepared to take us all forward.

At the university, we are part of you, we admire you, and we will serve you. But it all starts here.