BY LEXI CHERRY
For the UAS Whalesong
The UAS Whalesong’s Lexi Cherry had the opportunity to sit down with newly-minted Chancellor Rick Caulfield.
Lexi Cherry: Tell us your story. Who are you? Where did you come from?
Rick Caulfield: I came to Juneau in 1975 on the ferry Columbia, and I ended up moving up to Anchorage and then to Fairbanks. I spent a good part of 2 years in the interior, and then I came back down to Southeast Alaska and I worked here during the summers in the late ‘70s. My wife and I met here and were married in Gustavus in 1979, and then we ended up moving back up into the interior so she could finish her college degree. I got my master’s degree in education at UAF, and then took a job out in western Alaska in Bristol Bay. We lived out in Dillingham for 5 years, and then I decided to go back and work on a doctorate in the UK. …I ended up doing field work in Greenland, focusing on aboriginal subsistence whaling. I finished my PhD in 1993, and then came back to Alaska and worked as a professor and later on as a campus director at UAF. Five years ago, I was offered the position of provost here at UAS, so in 2010, my family and I moved back down to Southeast Alaska. … when the position of chancellor opened up this past year, I applied for and was lucky enough to get it.
LC: How are the positions of provost and chancellor different from each other? What are your duties?
RC: The chancellor has responsibility for all of the university, including its academics, administrative services, and facilities at all 3 of our campuses – Juneau, Sitka, and Ketchikan – and all of the student services as well. The provost is the chief academic officer for the university. As provost, …I was responsible for working with our deans and directors to ensure the quality of our academic programs and that UAS meets accreditation standards.
LC: Do you have anything that you’re particularly excited to work on as Chancellor?
RC: A couple of things we’re working on … include expanding opportunities for students to study fisheries here at UAS. …There’s a growing demand for undergraduate fisheries programs … because of the prominence of fisheries in our economy. We’re looking at ways … [to] expand undergraduate fisheries options, along with marine biology and biology.
Another is in the area of Northwest Coast Arts – arts are really important to an undergraduate education, and we’re going to continue to offer painting and drawing and ceramics classes here at UAS… We have a special opportunity to highlight Northwest Coast Arts… We have a proposal right now for a 2.5 million dollar grant to be able to enhance what we’re able to offer… That would include hiring artists to work on the campus and offer classes… and also to provide more degree offerings in Northwest Coast Arts. We’re waiting to hear about whether we’re successful in getting that grant proposal.
LC: What are the UA system’s strengths and weaknesses?
One of the things I think is a particular strength for UAS is the fact that we offer high-quality, affordable education, and students get personalized service here. At the same time, I think that in the UA system as a whole, each of our 3 universities has areas of specialization that are available. … at UAF, their focus is more on serving as a research institution for the state … A student might …complete their GERs or a baccalaureate degree here and then go on to UAF and one of the graduate programs there. … [UAA] take[s] the lead in the state system in health education. We have a nursing program here at UAS that is actually a UAA program. … Students … can start here and get their initial GERs or an AAS in health sciences out of the way, then transfer to UAA into radiology or the nursing program. … Our goal is to make sure that students who want to transfer from one place to the other are able to do so without difficulty and be successful when earning their degree.
LC: It sounds like location is both a big strength and weakness for each school. For example, if you want to study marine biology, that’s a big strength for UAS but not so much for UAA.
RC: That’s one of the things we’re really trying to do, is think about limited budget resources. … Each of our campuses have particular strengths; we talked about freshman housing here, opportunities to live on campus and be involved with the honors programs and undergraduate research opportunities… that’s a special opportunity that you have in Juneau. In Sitka, we have fisheries technology programs available online … anywhere in the state. In Ketchikan, we have a partnership with the ship and drydock company, Vigor, and also with the Alaska Marine Highway System. … That’s associated with our Maritime and Multiskilled Worker Program, that is designed to help students prepare for employment in maritime industries in Southeast Alaska.
LC: There are concerns that the John Pugh Residence Hall’s location has eliminated opportunities for upperclassmen and freshmen to interact with each other. Can you speak to this concern?
RC: I would say that the new John Pugh Residence Hall is set up the way that it is in order to promote student success. … Our experience has been that when you build that initial cohort of freshmen, … the likelihood is that they will be more successful … as they transition from the residence hall to Banfield or other housing. … There are many opportunities for them to interact with their upperclassmen peers. …it’s not as if there’s a strict line drawn.
LC: In light of increasing tuition costs, do you feel that college (in general, not necessarily just at UAS) is still worth the price?
RC: I absolutely believe that post-secondary education is worth the price. … In the world we live in today… having the skills of post-secondary education is all the more important. … Learning to think critically, being able to work effectively with other people in a team, being familiar with people of diverse languages and cultures and backgrounds, and being able to analyze and solve problems… these are all things that Alaska needs for the future. …Post-secondary education, whether it’s a 1-year certificate or a 2-year associate’s degree or a 4-year baccalaureate degree, is designed to give you those skills and competencies.
LC: Do you think that the “Finish in Four” campaign is a realistic goal for UAS to push, considering increased tuition costs and the large number of non-traditional students attending UAS?
RC: The average age of a student at UAS is 29. …Students … are taking classes online, single parents … are taking care of children and working two jobs and going to school at the same time. … For many students, it’s unrealistic that they would “finish in four.” Instead, I think what we try to focus on is that students should make steady progress and do really well in their classes. …Those who maintain a steady pace toward their degree, as opposed to leaving college for periods of time, are more likely to finish in the end.
LC: When I visit other colleges, their communities are very connected to the school, which is not something I see happening with UAS and Juneau very much at all. Do you have any ideas on how students could maybe go around changing that?
RC: I think we aspire to have stronger connections between our students and the broader Juneau community. … Some of the examples of where it works well is with internship opportunities and practicum experiences, where … students have a chance to work in a business or with an agency like the Department of Fish and Game or NOAA. … We just had … a very successful campus kickoff. …I think the opportunities are there, but maybe we need to work harder at getting the word out about what those are, and helping students participate in those activities. … We’re here on Auke Lake, and so it’s not as if we were right in downtown Juneau…We have the bus available… but maybe we need to work more to ensure that those kinds of connections are made. …That might be something that student government could work on as well. … It’s one thing to ask for student discounts, but are there also other things that could help build relationships between local businesses and our student population?
LC: Do you think students should feel comfortable going to people in positions of authority on campus and saying that they disagree with rules that have been made?
RC: Students are why we’re here, and so we would encourage students to speak up about issues they’re concerned about. … That’s why I look to student government as one important way for students to give voice to issues that are on their mind, … often if good ideas come forward … they’ll get serious consideration. The short answer is I would encourage students to speak up, and I personally am interested to hear new and creative ideas about how we can do a better job of serving students and helping them to be successful.
LC: Any closing comments?
RC: We have a good community here, and people care about each other. Students are not a number; you can bring forward concerns and you’ll be listened to, and we’re ready to respond if it’s a good idea. I look to students, and student government in particular, as a vehicle for bringing forward those kinds of ideas and concerns.