Thursday, November 05, 2015

"Smart and aggressive people have taken advantage of opportunities to teach, pursue scholarship, advance their causes, and persist in the face of a sometimes bewildering mixture of difficulty and opportunity.”

That's from the conclusion that Will Jacobs, Professor Emeritus in History, read from his book  Becoming UAA:  1954-2014 at Chancellor Tom Case's home Wednesday night.  Will, under some prodding from the UAA administration, has written what he more or less said was a first draft of UAA history and he discussed the book and its writing at a reception that included history faculty, some other emeritus faculty, and assorted other guests.

As I sat there listening to Will's talk, I marveled at how oblivious I had been to much of what was going on around me.  Sure, I knew about the merger and certainly about Fairbanks/Anchorage rivalries, but there were so many details I knew nothing about.  And he mentioned one player - Lew Haines - whom I did know somewhat, but had no idea really about his background and contributions to UAA.

It was yet one more reminder to me (and to readers) reach any conclusions about people until I have learned more about them - where they came from and what they all did before they entered the periphery of my life.   I'm looking forward to reading this book to just understand what was going on out of sight that impacted my work life. 

In the picture below you can see Chancellor Case on the right standing and Dr. Jacobs sitting at the far right.  For someone like me who has lived through much of this

This image gets bigger and sharper if you click on it

Will was bullish on what UAA has become, despite being
". . . troubled by conflicting values, uncooperative colleagues, and forced perceived to be malign emanating from Fairbanks"
lots of good things had been achieved.  The nature of public organizations is often troubled this way.  Budgets are often annual, making long term projects hard to achieve.  This rather than comprehensive planning, things get done piecemeal as political coalitions that can get funding for a project emerge for a time - ideally when the legislature has some slack in the budget.

But he also voiced concern for the future of state universities in fulfilling their traditional role as a path to upward social mobility. 

The 'ancient' history - back in the 50's and early 60's - before I was here, includes the creation of the community college by the Regents in Fairbanks  jointly with the Anchorage School Districts.  Will read some letters that sought (and got reassurance) that the new community college in Anchorage wasn't going to develop into a four year college.  From a letter from UA president Ernest Patty to the Board of Regents in 1954, recounting a conversation with Larry Good, the new Anchorage Community College director:
"I told him that we didn't want to create something that was going to develop, in two or three years, into a Junior College and then in two or three years after that become a competing section of the University.  He was quick to assure me that he was strictly a community college man, and that his ambitions did not extend beyond those limits for the Anchorage Community College . . . he would give us his word of honor that those were the plans on which he was proceeding. . ."
I became a faculty member in Anchorage in 1977, just as the old 'senior' college had become an independent four year college and from the very beginning I was told that Fairbanks was conspiring against Anchorage.  And at the reception Wednesday questions still came up about why Fairbanks today has a bigger budget than Anchorage while Anchorage has far more students.

And giving 'his word of honor.'  Wow, that seems so quaint today.  It would be nice if we could operate like that again.

The book is both legitimate historical academic research and, it seems, UAA public relations.  It's published by "University of Alaska Anchorage" and it says "Publication coordination by the UAA Office of Institutional Effectiveness."  There's a lot of history in here, but there's also a lot more that isn't in here.  It's a good start to documenting UAA's history and perhaps a call for others to jump in and fill in the gaps.

And talking about history, I would note that the Chancellor's house is a 10,000 square foot house in Turnagain that once belonged to Anchorage banker Elmer and Mary Louise Rasmuson.  After Mary Louise died in 2012 at age 101, the children arranged to donate the house to the University of Alaska Foundation to be used as the Chancellor's residence. 

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