President Gamble: ‘Growth is dead’
By Andrew Sheeler
Sun Star Reporter
The University of Alaska has a new president to go along with a new school year. This June, President Mark Hamilton retired, handing the reins of the job to fellow former general Patrick Gamble. Since taking office, Gamble has embarked on a listening tour of sorts, traveling to the different campuses and talking with students, staff and faculty of the University of Alaska about issues concerning them. Gamble said that with most executive jobs, it takes between three and six months for people to “get their feet on the ground.” Asked how long he gives himself, Gamble said that by next spring he should have all the information he needs and can begin taking action.
Action, according to Gamble, is providing the university with leadership and management skills. “Rivalry belongs on the football field,” Gamble said, although for the University of Alaska it really belongs on the hockey rink. Gamble cited divisiveness and conflicting agendas as a problem, most recently manifested in the legislative battle for funding for the UAF life sciences building and UAA sports complex. Gamble called such things “dysfunctional to the system” and that the university must present a unified front to the rest of the state and especially to the Alaska Legislature that controls its funding.
On the issue of funding, Gamble said that he has begun crafting the University of Alaska’s budget for the year based on an announcement from Governor Parnell that next year’s state budget will be a “flatline” budget. Gamble’s interpretation of Parnell’s remarks is that “growth is dead, so we’ve got to sustain what we’ve got.” Gamble’s prediction is that growth will remain dead for the next two years, that the University of Alaska must tighten its belt and try to weather the lean times. The university president wants to wait and see who will be residing in the governor’s mansion next year before making any substantial policy decisions.
Wait and see extends to the president’s stance on the non-discrimination policy. Shortly after taking office, Gamble met with student leaders who support amending the university non-discrimination policy to include gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people. President Hamilton supported the change, and it has been awaiting a decision by the University of Alaska Board of Regents for over a year. Gamble said that the students gave him much food for thought on the issue, providing him with material backing up their argument.
“I’m doing my homework right now in order to craft my position that I’m going to take to the board,” Gamble said.
Gamble said that his job is to further the groundwork laid by President Hamilton, and he wouldn’t specify any disagreements he had about Hamilton’s policies. Gamble did say though that he is willing review Hamilton’s decision to push for a 10 percent tuition increase beginning in fall 2011 with a further increase of 10 to 12 percent beginning in the fall of 2012.
“I just don’t accept tuition increases at face value,” Gamble said. Gamble believes that tuition level is a two-way street, capable of going down as well as up. There are no plans at this time though to lower tuition.
UAF staff will be voting in September on whether they will be unionizing, and Gamble is keeping his opinions on that effort to himself. Gamble said that it is the right of the staff to unionize. He described unions as a way of life when he was president of the Alaska Railroad.
“My responsibility is to make sure my staff give good, honest straightforward answers,” Gamble said, in reference to questions UAF staff members have about what unionizing means. Gamble said he is “in the process of meeting with union leaders.”