Railroad CEO selected as next UA president

Patrick Gamble, Alaska Railroad CEO and the next president of the University of Alaska, addresses an audience March 1 at UAF. Photo by Jesse Hoff/The Sun Star

By Andrew Sheeler
Sun Star Reporter

Thirty candidates applied to fill the shoes of retiring University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton. Three of them emerged as finalists and ran through a gauntlet of meet and greets at the three main UA campuses. In the end, it was Alaska Railroad CEO Patrick Gamble that got the job. The decision was made during a five-hour Board of Regents meeting on Monday, and the board announced its decision Tuesday.

Gamble’s resume is impressive. In addition to serving as chief executive of the Alaska Railroad, he is a former four-star general for the Air Force and served briefly as commandant of the Air Force Academy. Gamble’s resume is missing one thing, however: a doctorate. This makes Gamble only the second president in university history to not have one. The first was Mark Hamilton.

“We talked a lot about the qualification of a Ph.D. The door was opened with Mark Hamilton,” said Board of Regents Chair Cynthia Henry. Henry said that faculty and staff the regents had spoken with told them that they were open to the idea of a non-Ph.D. president.

According to Henry, Hamilton will serve as president through the rest of the academic year, as well as for commencement. Hamilton has also agreed to provide the incoming Gamble with advice as Gamble settles in to his new position. Among the challenges Gamble will face after entering office, according to Henry, is the difficulty of securing funding for university projects and maintenance for its facilities. Another challenge will be to provide better funding and administration to the university’s numerous rural campuses. Henry said that Gamble’s experience administrating both the Alaska Railroad and the Pacific Air Forces makes him an ideal choice to supervise such a large and diverse university system.

Back in September, the Board of Regents allocated $95,000 for the presidential search. While the final numbers on the search’s price tag won’t be in for up to a month, University of Alaska Director of Public Affairs Kate Ripley says that the final cost of the search will likely be more than that. Ripley said that the last university presidential search, in 1998, cost the university $170,000 and that search only had two candidates. Ripley called the expenses necessary, saying that the university must pay to hold “meet the candidates” events at public venues such as the Carlson Center. “You’ve got to have something out in the community or else you start getting accused of being an ivory tower,” Ripley said.

Regent Henry said that all three finalists were well-qualified individuals and the university was fortunate to have them apply. Henry had much praise for the other finalists: Lisa Rossbacher, president of Southern Polytechnic State University, and John Pugh, chancellor of University of Alaska Southeast. But because of the unique challenges that face the University of Alaska, the regents felt that Gamble was the best person for the job. “We need someone who can move the university to a higher level,” Henry said.

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