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New Petition in Protest of UA System President's Bonus at One Thousand Signatures

University of Alaska System

The University of Alaska Board of Regents offered an incentive bonus to President Pat Gamble to stay with the university system through 2016.  An online petition started up in response and has received over one thousand signatures.  

President Gamble’s bonus would be equivalent to one year’s salary- $320,000.  In an official letter from Board of Regents Chairwoman Pat Jacobson she states “Pat Gamble is an accomplished, nationally known and exceptional leader, who could readily take his skills elsewhere or simply decide to retire.”  She goes on to say Gamble will remain an at-will employee, meaning the board may fire him for any reason at any time. 

The Board of Regents consists of 11 that gather four to six times a year in public meetings.  This bonus was introduced and approved at the June meeting of this year.  Public affairs director for the University of Alaska system Kate Ripley was the one who issued the press release after the meeting.

“The board’s rationale is that they strongly endorse his leadership. They are very supportive of his efforts with Shaping Alaska’s Future initiative and that’s a police that lays out 23 specific outcomes that the University system intends to achieve in the coming years.”

Although Gamble wouldn’t actually receive the bonus until 2016, its announcement does have awkward timing.  At the University of Alaska Fairbanks alone, about 40 positions were cut this month.  Gamble is also proposing to raise tuition rates four percent for in-state and out-of-state students. 

Associate professor of sociology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Sine Anahita created an online petition last week after spending three week protesting the bonus.  She says the petition is getting the attention of former students as well as current students. 

“The most common comment seems to be upset and outrage at the bonus during the time that the rest of the university is suffering under budget cuts and fiscal austerity measures. The word ‘insulting’ is used a lot. So a typical comment would be ‘this is insulting to hard working students and staff, the students who are making so little and working so hard, the faculty that are so under paid and the staff who have been terminated and their jobs have been eliminated.’ And it’s just insulting.”

Anahita says lower level jobs aren’t the only ones in danger.  She says positions of higher levels have been eliminated because of budget deficits. 

“Something else that we’re seeing is that when faculty are retiring or when they got a position elsewhere the university to coup with the budget cut, doesn’t replace the faculty or replaces the faculty with very low paid adjunct, temporary teachers.”

Professor of Neurobiology at University of Alaska Fairbanks Abel Bult-Ito is the President of United Academics local union 4996.  He believes Gamble has not been effective in getting an appropriate budget for the University system.

“He mentioned to the legislator when he got a specific question about what the impact would be of a proposed $14.9 million cut to the general fund operating budget to the university and he said the university can absorb it. And as a result he lost in my opinion all credibility regarding representing the university and getting the university the money it needs to operate.”

Ripley says the complaints against Gamble’s bonus aren’t entirely accurate.  She says the “cut” in the budget is actually a “budget gap.”  The university didn’t receive a huge cut from the state. The system is seeing increased costs and lowering of enrollment, and Ripley says a cut of a little less than one million dollars from the state. 

However, that doesn’t instill confidence in Anahita.  She calls this bonus a public relations nightmare.

“President Gamble and his predecessor, President Hamilton, have worked very hard to create the sense of good will for the university and the community. Send us your kids, we will educate your kids, we will give your kids a high quality educate at a reasonable cost on fine campuses and they worked really hard on this image of the University of this caring place that is for education. And then to undo all that hard work that the presidents have done, but that also faculty and staff do routinely of creating the university as the beacon of education, to undo all that work, all that good will in just one fell swoop is really insulting.”

Gamble’s salary hasn’t increased since 2011.  His current pay is at least 25 percent lower than the salary for system presidents at comparable universities in the lower 48.