Pitney highlights top programs, finances during State of the University address
JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - University of Alaska President Pat Pitney delivered her first State of the University address, focusing on positive attributes about the three campus locations and the system as a whole.
Pitney officially had “interim” dropped from her title just six days ago when the Board of Regents for the university unanimously voted in support of Pitney becoming the 17th President of the University of Alaska, and the first female president in the history of the university system. Pitney addressed the Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall.
“Our universities are on the right path for Alaska,” Pitney said. “... Our university system is filled with exceptional people creating valuable educational and research opportunities.”
Pitney thanked Indigenous leaders within the university system and played a short inspirational video about how the university system works for Alaska. Pitney applauded the University of Alaska Fairbanks as the top Arctic science institution in the nation and the second-ranked Arctic science school in the world.
Pitney spent time during the tail end of her speech talking about the finances of the university, including thanking donors and discussing the legacy of Ed Rasmuson, who died earlier this year. Pitney said that one of the most valuable untapped resources was federal aid offered to high school students.
“The most important source, however, of financial aid for higher education funding to Alaskan students is Alaska’s Higher Education Investment Fund — 5,400 students rely on this funding,” Pitney said. “It funds our Alaska performance scholarship, our Alaska education grant, and our WWAMI medical school program.”
Last month, an Anchorage Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the state on a lawsuit brought by four college students who argued that draining the state’s scholarship fund was unconstitutional.
“The higher education fund got caught up in the three quarters vote and the funds were swept into savings,” Pitney said. “We are aggressively pursuing both legislative and legal efforts to ensure that the count and the funding for these critical scholarships is restored so students and parents have certainty and employers have qualified graduates.”
As an Olympic gold medalist in the air rifle event in 1984, Pitney spent time congratulating the Alaskan Olympians who competed for Team USA, as well as a UAF skier who competed for Estonia. Pitney said that her daughter — a UAF skier at the time — described Olympian Gus Schumacher as “the real deal” nearly a decade ago.
Pitney repeatedly described the cost of post-secondary degrees in Alaska as affordable and mentioned numerous leading programs. She said the nursing program develops approximately 900 graduates per year with a health care certificate after setting a goal of doubling the 70 yearly graduates in the 1990s. Additionally, Pitney said that a Bachelor of Arts program for early childhood education would begin in the fall.
“Homegrown teachers are key to improving retention in rural school districts, and preparing teachers who understand Alaska,” Pitney said.
Pitney then discussed how University of Alaska schools were changing the delivery method of their education in response to the coronavirus pandemic. She said that numerous asynchronous courses were added, including a fisheries course.
“I am so excited that we’re doing this, emerging from COVID being in person,” Pitney said. “But our universities are emerging out of COVID as well. This spring many of our courses returned to face-to-face. But next fall, we’ll have our vibrant campuses back with the full array of face-to-face courses. At the same time, we’re going to capitalize on what we learned being online during COVID.”
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