Education and Oatmeal


By Jeremia Schrock
Sun Star Reporter

Governor Parnell addresses Fairbanks residents during a reception (Jan. 21) thrown in his and Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell's honor. Jeremia Schrock/Sun Star.

For Governor Sean Parnell and Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell, “Fairbanks” is synonymous with “education.” Not only did the Governor and Lt. Governor visit UAF Friday afternoon to thumb through an original copy of the Alaska state constitution, but also our own Chancellor Rogers was the Master of Ceremonies at an inaugural reception thrown in their honor.

“I believe Alaska needs a powerhouse university,” Treadwell said during the reception. “There is nothing we do in this state, that doesn’t happen better, without knowledge,” he added.

As the Governor and Lt. Governor spoke in turn, one noticed certain words and themes that were struck upon over and over again: God, Family, State, Service. Only a bingo card could have made the evenings discourse any more lively.

Friday’s reception at the Carlson Center was just one in a series of receptions across the state aimed at welcoming the newly elected administration into office. The speeches (and there were four of them) were short and sweet, yet they felt unquestionably boilerplate.

“There’s so many things to be done, I’m just ready to roll up my sleeves to help,” Treadwell said after thanking Chancellor Rogers and President Gamble for discussing with him ways to better UAF.

In 1978, Treadwell (or as I think of him, “Mr. Education”) received his BA from Yale followed by an MBA from the Harvard Business School four years later. For the past nine years, he has worked as a member, and later appointed the chair, of the United States Arctic Research Commission established by President George W. Bush. Treadwell is also no stranger to public office, having worked as Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation under former Governor Wally Hickel. Treadwell was also a prize-winning political reporter for the Anchorage Times during the late ’70s and early ’80s.

The governor, it should be noted, is an interesting man. This may come as a surprise to some people, like Laura Fitzpatrick writing for TIME, who feels that our 10th governor has a “a low-key demeanor that verges on bland.” Don Young labeled Parnell “Captain Zero” and the Anchorage Daily News dubbed him the “oatmeal governor.” While the “Parnell” that smiles and shakes our hands may border on the uninspiring, to accuse him of rote blandness is to do him a disservice.

While Sarah Palin’s larger-than-life personality provides cover to an otherwise shallow and pedestrian individual, Parnell acts as his own Puss-in-Boots. Not the adorable Antonio Banderas-voiced kitty from the Shrek films, but the fairy-tale feline who used guile and cunning to gain power and wealth for his poor and lowly master. He did it all with a click of the tongue, leaving no one the wiser.

Parnell’s life prior to the governorship was one of a corporate man, lobbyist and politician. Before becoming Palin’s Lt. Governor in 2006, Parnell acted as both a state representative and a state senator, lawyer, government relations director for Conoco Phillips and as a lobbyist for the Washington D.C.-based firm Patton Boggs.

I met Parnell at the soiree and asked if he had time for a question.

“What’s it about?” He asked guardedly. I told him it was about education to which he responded with a clipped “sure.”

It was a simple question: What is UAF’s role in Alaska? “UAF’s role in Alaska, to me, is in becoming one of the economic engines for Alaska. If UAF can produce graduates that can take the jobs of tomorrow then UAF will have fulfilled its role.” He paused, “that’s about as simple as I can put it.”

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