Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Community Perspective
FAIRBANKS — This is a response, on behalf of the 950 faculty members at the University of Alaska (UA) who are represented by United Academics, to UA Board of Regents (BOR) Chair Pat Jacobson’s defense of the $320,000 retention bonus to UA President Pat Gamble.
The actions of the BOR, awarding this bonus to President Gamble and failing to offer reasonable justifications for it, suggest that it is out of touch with the realities faced by many UA students and with the academic mission of the university.
The BOR appears more concerned about capital projects than in investing in the employees that provide the services to the students by praising capital projects, while ignoring the large cuts in the fiscal year 2014-2015 (FY15) UA operating budget.
At the FY16 budget meeting in Fairbanks on Aug. 7, one of the BOR members did not understand that laying off 50 employees at UAF (about 20 faculty and 30 staff members) would result in a cut of services to the students.
The BOR is rewarding a president who has overseen a decline in enrollment. Enrollment, measured in total credit hour production, has declined by 2.4 percent in fall 2012, 2.6 percent in fall 2013, 2.8 percent in spring 2013 and 3.4 percent in spring 2014, and appears to continue to decline for fall 2014.
The BOR is rewarding a president who shifted
$7 million in health care costs per year to the employees, while not reducing the overall university budget proportionally. Instead, these funds are now being used to cover budget shortfalls and to maintain the disproportionally large size of the statewide administration, basically on the backs of academic staff and faculty.
The BOR is rewarding a president who was unable to obtain the operating funds from the Alaska Legislature necessary to run the university in FY15, resulting in large layoffs of faculty and staff at the academic units and consequent reductions in services to students.
The BOR is rewarding a president who has shown little to no interest in learning about the academic programs at the UA. He has not taken any significant time in four years to talk with employees in academic programs, departments, and colleges to find out what it really takes to be successful teaching in the classroom and online, doing research, engaging in creative activities, and providing services to the community.
The BOR is rewarding a president who is maintaining a statewide administration of 242 employees, as of Aug. 7, that will cost more than $70 million in FY16, without providing any direct services to the teaching, research, and service mission of the university.
At the FY16 budget meeting on Aug. 7, President Gamble said that the statewide administration would not see any personnel cuts in FY15 and FY16, while we see large personnel reductions within academic units in FY15 alone. Apparently, maintaining the disproportionately large size and budget of the statewide administration, which does not have any major revenue sources of its own, is more important than supporting the academic mission of the university.
The BOR is rewarding a president who in his four-year tenure at the university has raised no significant funds from major corporations or foundations, such as from oil companies active in Alaska, to support the academic mission of the university. Instead, at a University of Alaska House Finance Subcommittee meeting in February 2014 President Gamble took credit for a NSF research infrastructure grant with which he had little to no involvement.
The BOR actions may have serious consequences for the ability of the university to raise funds from donors. In a recent conversation with a major donor, their distaste with the BOR’s decision to grant a bonus to President Gamble was made very apparent. More importantly, the donor was critically questioning their incentive for giving to the University. To paraphrase the donor, “Even if I give $50,000 to the University, six other donors would have to step forward with similar donations just to make up for this unwarranted bonus that the BOR is planning to give President Gamble.”
Faculty members are appalled by the actions of the BOR, which we believe to be unwarranted. United Academics will continue to object to the BOR’s reckless actions and will continue to seek the BOR’s reversal of the retention bonus. The university should be about educating students.
Abel Bult-Ito is the president of United Academics AAUP/AFT Local 4996. He is a professor of neurobiology at UAF.