Cathy Sandeen

GUEST COMMENTARY: Why doing the right thing for UAA means a fall semester online

As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in Alaska and across the country, university administrators have grappled with the difficult question of how to move forward with course delivery and campus operations this fall. By their very nature, universities are places where people gather in person to learn, study, work, collaborate and socialize. The continuous flow of people in and out of campus poses an elevated risk of spreading COVID-19. The Anchorage Health Department reported more than half of new COVID infections in Alaska are from those ages 20 to 39, a demographic that makes up more than 40 percent of UAA’s student body. Additionally, the Municipality of Anchorage remains in the state of Alaska’s high alert level with greater than 10 cases per 100,000 population over the last 14 days. The potential impacts of disease transmission on our economy are even more startling when one considers the majority of students commute to campus, work full or part-time jobs and have families, illustrating the clear integration of the university population and the local community. For UAA administrators, this fact could not be ignored: Connection is part of the college experience. University leadership determined the best way to help students and employees safely connect during the pandemic is by leveraging alternate delivery methods for courses and remote work for most employees. The Anchorage Health Department unequivocally supports the university’s decision to proactively limit face-to-face campus activities, an approach that also mitigates the opportunity for spontaneous gatherings to occur. Social gatherings, particularly large ones, provide the ideal circumstances for the virus to spread. The UAA public health experts consulting with the municipality can attest to the dire consequences rising COVID-19 case counts pose, threatening to overwhelm intensive care units at local hospitals if transmission is not slowed. While UAA’s mission is first to educate, the health and safety of students, faculty and staff is paramount. This drove leadership’s decision to announce on April 1 that UAA would fully deliver the summer semester online and the subsequent decision in early May to continue with alternate delivery for fall, offering a limited number of hands-on courses that can only effectively be delivered face-to-face. In-person classes require dean authorization along with a hazard mitigation plan approved by the university’s Office of Risk Management. Use of masks will be required this fall for face-to-face courses and any on-campus operations. In addition, because congregate housing poses an increased risk of COVID-19 transmission, UAA has limited the number of occupants living on campus to 25 percent of its overall capacity. This comes with a loss in revenue, but the alternative is a price too high to pay with regard to students’ health. Residence Life has also implemented a two-step COVID-19 testing requirement. Students entering the residential community at the beginning of the semester are required to have two negative COVID-19 tests. This applies regardless of whether the student’s point of origin is in-state or out-of-state and prior to attending any face-to-face classes. The collective health and safety of student-athletes, coaches, and fans is also the reason UAA Athletics stood in solidarity with nine other schools in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference in support of the GNAC CEO board’s difficult, yet unanimous decision to suspend all fall athletic competition through at least Nov. 30. UAA leadership was unwavering in its decision to put people’s health first. UAA has the difficult task of balancing academic rigor with safety for its students, faculty and staff, the majority of whom are also members of the greater Anchorage community. Rest assured the leadership of Anchorage’s Hometown U and the municipality will continue to work together to do the right thing for our campus community, our city and our state. We can and will get through this, together. Cathy Sandeen is the chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage. Natasha Pineda is the former director of the Anchorage Health Department and a 2015 alumna of the UAA Master of Public Health program.

GUEST COMMENTARY: UAA is here when you need us

Many of you have heard me describe University of Alaska Anchorage as Alaska’s modern, relevant, connected urban-metropolitan university. UAA has become the school of choice for Alaska’s best and brightest, and we open our doors to anyone seeking opportunity through education. UAA is Anchorage’s hometown university. We’re here to solve real-world problems. These words cannot fully describe the important asset UAA has become over its history. At no time has the value of UAA to this community been more apparent than during our current response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For the last 15 years, UAA biology researchers have been studying coronavirus strains, most recently in bats in Alaska, developing tools that can now be applied to the virus that causes COVID-19. Mutated coronavirus strains jumping from bats to humans are known to be the cause of the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the MERS outbreak in 2012. Our researchers have partnered with the Centers of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance to standardize, catalog and make data accessible to everyone around the world, with the hope of painting a clearer picture of regional coronavirus variants. In addition to this research, the UAA College of Health is working to graduate up to 72 nursing students early so that they can join the health care workforce in Alaska. The college is coordinating with relevant university offices, the Alaska Board of Nursing and the accrediting agency. These students are completing their course requirements on an expedited timeline and will apply for temporary licensure that qualifies them to practice for six months. They will follow up with completion of the licensing exam that all nursing students take to become a permanent RN. The college’s Alaska Center for Rural Health and Health Workforce is working with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services COVID-19 Task Force to quickly develop a medical supply survey tool to track supply usage and restock rates used by the state to prioritize and distribute critical medical supplies. Additionally, a research team from the UAA College of Health’s Division of Population Health Sciences and Institute for Circumpolar Studies used epidemiological modeling to predict the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Anchorage and Mat-Su area. The report found without recent state and municipal intervention policies aimed at sheltering in place and social distancing, Alaska’s medical infrastructure would become overwhelmed. The report, which was shared with Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Alaska Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink, called for strengthening these intervention measures to “flatten the curve.” The researchers have now done similar modeling for the Fairbanks area. UAA’s contributions also extend beyond the College of Health. An economist within the UAA Institute for Economic and Social Research and the College of Business and Public Policy has conducted analysis on the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Alaska’s economy. A faculty member with expertise in international policy and disaster response is actively contributing to local planning efforts. UAA engineering faculty have responded to requests by medical professionals to produce ventilator parts and personal protective equipment using 3D printing technology available on campus. Another faculty member is adapting orthopedic surgical suits for use in screening COVID-19 patients. The federally funded Small Business Development Center within the Business Enterprise Institute at UAA has consulted with over 200 small businesses in the state on strategies to mitigate financial losses due to business closures. In addition, the institute’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership worked with the Alaska Legislature on an amendment to Senate Bill 241. The bill extends the governor’s declaration of a public health disaster emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and allows for temporary changes to state law. The amendment provides a liability waiver, making it possible for local manufacturers to produce badly needed PPE and allowing local health care providers to use it. The UAA colleges of Health, Arts and Sciences and Engineering transferred supplies of personal protective equipment to the state for distribution to health care workers. UAA research labs have transferred needed chemical supplies to Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium for use in COVID-19 testing. UAA’s Alaska Airlines Center has been converted into a medical alternate care site to treat patients in the event local hospitals experience an influx of COVID-19 patients. UAA is making space available in two of its residence halls to house health care workers if the need arises. The university’s dining services is also standing by to provide support to health care workers. Similar responses have occurred at UAA’s community campuses. We’ve produced a video series called “Ask a UAA Expert,” featuring just-in-time relevant information from faculty with expertise relevant to our COVID-19 response—everything from disaster recovery to talking with your kids about the pandemic to dangers the pandemic poses to rural Alaska Native communities. This work and more commenced immediately as part of Alaska’s COVID-19 response without anyone having to ask. That’s what being a relevant, connected university means. UAA is not the ivory tower. I have always said UAA excels at applied research that solves Alaska’s most pressing problems. It is no surprise to me that UAA has stepped up magnificently in this current crisis. This is your hometown university. UAA is right here wherever, whenever you might need us. Cathy Sandeen is the chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage.

GUEST COMMENTARY: University of Alaska wants your input on academic reviews

As we face the rise of the COVID-19 health crisis in our state and our nation, the leadership team at the University of Alaska is addressing the pandemic with strength and care for our staff, faculty and students. In response to the crisis, when students returned to classes this week, our university looked much different than it did just three weeks ago. Our university communities, like those throughout our state, now must study, work, and live differently. These new conditions bring new responsibilities for all of us, and a new way to serve our friends, neighbors and colleagues. Our new reality also includes the mandate to reduce our operating costs by $45 million as of July 1, 2021. When the Board of Regents signed a compact with Gov. Mike Dunleavy last August, we averted a catastrophic $135 million budget cut this fiscal year. The compact has given us three years to reduce our operational expenses by $70 million: $25 million this year, $25 million by July 1, 2020 and another $20 million by July 1, 2021. We achieved $25 million in reductions this year, but still have the remaining $45 million in cuts to achieve. Months ago, the Board of Regents established a process to make the remaining reductions, and tasked the university chancellors to review and further reduce academic programs and administrative costs. Due to our notice and “teach out” requirements, those decisions need to be made by the Board of Regents in early June 2020. The added costs and reduced revenues caused by the rapidly spreading COVID-19 make these decisions even more critical and urgent. The recommendations from each university provided this week have been very difficult to make, but they were made in the spirit of transparency and with input from staff, students, faculty and community members at each campus either by attending a forum, writing an email or letter, or expressing your views personally. As we evaluate the choices over the next several months our commitment to you is to continue to be transparent, inclusive, and to work together to best position the university to serve the needs of our students and the state. Now the second phase of the review process begins. The chancellors’ recommendations will be reviewed by the president before being sent to the university’s Academic Council. From there, a committee of the Board of Regents will review the recommendations and draw up a list of final reductions to present to the full Board of Regents in June. At every decision point, we know there are students, faculty, donors, community members and employees who have an interest in the outcome. As we go through this review process considering cost, demand, and other data, as well as qualitative factors, we will do so with compassion. We also recognize that as we make decisions about what programs to reduce or discontinue, we must preserve what is core to our mission so we can adapt to this fast changing demographic, technological, economic, and epidemilogical world. Between now and the board’s decision in June, there will be many opportunities to provide input and testimony. Virtual town halls will be held and all the relevant program and budget information will be posted at Additionally, each university has a website with university-specific information. We urge you to check the websites often and add to your calendar the dates for virtual town halls, committee meetings, and public testimony opportunities. We are all living in difficult and stressful times, with multiple forces pressing on us all. Rest assured, the University of Alaska — UAA, UAF, and UAS — is strong. We will weather these unprecedented times, using all tools available to do what’s right for our university, for the students we educate and the communities and state we serve. ^ Jim Johnsen is the President of the University of Alaska; Rick Caulfield Is the Chancellor of University of Alaska Southeast; Cathy Sandeen is the Chancellor of UA Anchorage; Dan White is the Chancellor of UA Fairbanks.

GUEST COMMENTARY: UAA provides return on investment for students, economy

The University of Alaska Anchorage is an open access, modern, urban metropolitan university. UAA grew up with Anchorage and is designed to serve this community. In addition, UAA is also an important resource for Alaska. We are similar to many other state universities that were previously commuter and safety schools. Like UAA, they are now growing and dynamic schools of choice drawing great students, faculty and staff. To understand UAA’s impact, it’s important to first understand the students we serve. About 30 percent of UAA students are first-generation college students, and more than 80 percent work full- or part-time while in school. Our students are often caring for family members and children, are veterans or current military in addition to their course loads. A majority of our students commute each day. At other universities, these qualities are normally considered risk factors to students completing their degrees. At UAA we understand this means our students are overcoming obstacles just to be here, and we work hard to provide them with every opportunity to succeed. We also know the value of a degree matters to our students. Recently, a Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce report named UAA among the top 15 percent of universities in the U.S. in terms of return on investment. The report considered 4,500 colleges and universities, taking into account earnings over 10- and 40-year time frames after graduation as well as average debt incurred. Among our peer universities, we were ranked No. 1 for return on investment. I’m very proud that UAA is being recognized for this, and I know our students realize it too. Despite an overall drop in enrollment after serious budget uncertainty, UAA saw one of its largest incoming freshman classes last fall, with 38 percent of incoming freshman entering with a 3.5 GPA or higher. We also provide a great value and return on investment to the community, and we are a major driver of Alaska’s economy. According to Visit Anchorage, an international food studies conference held at UAA this past summer generated over $1 million in revenue. Another conference on data science brought in more than $5 million. Our role in the community is recognized, and we have recently received significant support from partners including Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska and the Atwood Foundation. Our rigorous undergraduate and graduate research programs, and our applied research works to solve the state’s most pressing problems. Our communities benefit from UAA’s diverse group of centers and institutes devoted to special concerns and opportunities associated with northern populations as well as our connections to the national and international community. In addition, of our more than 57,000 alumni, 72 percent remain in Alaska. Most have chosen to live and work in the Anchorage Bowl or Mat-Su Valley, supporting and invigorating the Anchorage workforce. Since I began my role as UAA chancellor in September 2018, it hasn’t always been an easy road but I remain optimistic for the future. In spite of fiscal challenges we face due to recent state funding cuts, we remain focused on serving our students. We continue to look forward and create the best university for Anchorage. I know there are great things ahead for UAA, for Anchorage and for our students. Cathy Sandeen is the chancellor for the University of Alaska Anchorage.

UAA Chancellor: Committed to solving ‘unacceptable’ loss of accreditation

We appreciate that University of Alaska Anchorage students choose to invest in us for their education and their futures. We are grateful to the extended UAA community that invests in us every day through valuable partnerships, the support of our programs and employment of our graduates. To everyone who has put their trust in us, I am sorry. The loss of accreditation in the School of Education is unacceptable. It is my mission to do everything within my power to help each and every one of our students succeed. I can’t change what happened, but I am committed to solving the problem so our students are confident in the high-quality education they receive at UAA. Our first concern and highest priority is to address the needs of our students. UAA is working with the University of Alaska System and the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, or DEED, to come up with solutions, and DEED announced on Jan. 15 that spring and summer 2019 graduates will still be recommended for licensure by the Alaska State Board of Education. We will continue these efforts and work to obtain approval for teacher licensure for all affected students, no matter when they are scheduled to complete their program. We are also assisting UAA students who choose to complete their education degrees at the University of Alaska Fairbanks or University of Alaska Southeast, both of which have accredited education programs. We hope students will choose to stay at UAA, but we will do everything we can to ensure that transfers can occur, and that students are informed throughout the entire process. The UA Board of Regents is planning to meet with students, the education faculty and the public on Feb. 12 to hear concerns and to make sure they are supported through this difficult situation. While we focus on addressing the immediate needs of affected students, we are also taking the necessary steps to ensure Alaskans who choose to become teachers will have high quality programs available to them here at UAA. As those following the issue know, UAA did not lose accreditation because of a failure with the quality of our programs in the School of Education, but because we failed to demonstrate how we used the proper data to show what our programs have achieved. The fact is that UAA teachers are among the very best in the state. The last two teachers of the year in Alaska are graduates of our programs. And as you may have seen in the news just last week, one of four finalists for teacher of the year for the entire nation is a UAA graduate. To ensure our data collection, analysis and reporting meet the necessary standards going forward, all programs in the School of Education have adopted a nationally respected system called edTPA, a performance-based, subject-specific assessment and support system developed at the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity. To make sure this does not happen in other programs, UAA is investing to ensure that the additional data and reporting needs of programs with specialized accreditation are addressed. The first priority will be to focus on the education programs. I know there’s a lot of work to be done. It’s one thing to restore confidence in UAA among those of you directly affected in the School of Education. But I’m also very conscious of a need to assure the rest of our students and our community that problems of this magnitude are not the norm. The loss of the School of Education’s accreditation has no impact or bearing on the accreditation of any other programs at UAA. UAA just successfully completed a rigorous, institutional-level accreditation process with the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. That process forces us to be conscious of the need to continuously improve. When and where we can identify potential problems — particularly those that would impede any student’s ability to achieve his or her educational aspirations — we are committed to resolving them. As the chancellor of UAA, I will do what needs to be done to make sure the educational experience we are providing is worthy of the hard work, time, money and faith each and every student invests in UAA. ^ Cathy Sandeen is the Chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage.
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