The Sitka Campus has a new director. Dr. Paul Kraft arrived in Sitka in June to take over for interim director and faculty member Math Trafton. Although he’s coming from Colorado, Kraft is no stranger to the UAS system.
It’s an uncertain time to take a job in a university system that’s grappling with big state budget cuts. But Dr. Paul Kraft didn’t come to his new position as the UAS Sitka Campus Director without context. In the early 2000’s, Kraft spent five years as the dean of students for the UAS Juneau campus. So he’d been keeping tabs on the university’s situation from his last job at Lamar Community College in Colorado.
“[I was] Certainly was aware of the challenges that they were facing. So UAS has never really left my system, I always had such good memories of them and felt badly for them,” he says. “Not that I was going to come in and rescue them at all, they’re very competent and very professional and good at what they do.”
Kraft was eager to move back to Southeast Alaska to be closer to family. And he welcomed the opportunity to direct the Sitka campus.
“I just felt like it was a good fit for the experiences that I’d had,” he says. “I’d been vice president at several campuses and was looking for opportunity to maybe flex my wings a little bit and assume a bit more responsibility than what I’d had before.”
Last year Governor Mike Dunleavy cut the UA system’s budget by $25 million with more cuts planned for future years. That, and an anticipated budget shortfall as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, have the regents looking at a proposed campus merger that would absorb UAS into the larger UA system. Kraft says the UAS system is “fine the way it is,” and he and campus leaders in Ketchikan and Juneau want that message to ring out loud and clear.
“We function very well as a UAS system and we’re concerned about the possibility of losing some of the uniqueness and some of the advantages we have by being UAS,” he says.
He’s encouraged by news that local groups are forming to support the campus. He wants the campus to be a more engaged community partner moving forward.
“Having the local support is going to go a long way,” he says. “I’m committed to being as strong and forceful of a spokesperson that I can be for, not just the University of Alaska Southeast in Sitka, but for the region that it serves.”
Kraft says he hopes to stabilize the campus enrollment, which has been slipping over the last few years. And he wants to leverage Sitka’s advantages and experience with distance learning.
“As other campuses are trying to understand what it means to deliver classes online, we’ve been doing that for decades and we’ve been doing it very, very well,” says Kraft.
Even though the campus remains closed to the public, it’s still staffed and available to work with students or community members to address any enrollment needs.