Friday, February 11, 2011

Choosing a Chancellor: One Decision, Two Cultures

[Another long post, so another synopsis:  I tried to look at this as a clash of cultures.  The University's culture of shared governance runs into the Air Force's culture of accountability.  And I follow that theme for most of this post.   But the more I mull over  Gamble's account of how he did the search (on the video clip) and the points raised by the Faculty Senate the more I'm wondering why he seems to have totally skipped over the basic process for hiring set out in the Board of Regents Regulations and why the Board went along with it?] [And this week, I'm wishing I had an editor.  Sorry if there are still typos, you can email me to point them out and I'll fix them.]

The Objective:  Hire a Chancellor to replace the retiring Chancellor

The Cultures: 

Culture One:  Patrick Gamble comes from the Air Force (he retired as a general), via a stint at the Alaska Railroad, to become president of the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Culture Two:  University of Alaska, a state university with three main campuses and a pretty standard University shared governance system.

The Outcomes:

1.  A new chancellor - a former dean of the College of Business and Public Affairs at the University of Alaska Anchorage and also a former US Air Force general.

2.  A very upset faculty which felt the standard search process used for every faculty and administrative position, which includes a great deal of significant faculty (and other) participation with the President selecting from the final two or three recommended candidates was completely violated.   The standard search also follows a set of procedural steps spelled out in the Board of Regents Regulations, which Gamble never mentioned as he spoke about how he did the search.

The Showdown:  (OK, I'm getting dramatic now, it was more a polite, if occasionally heated, group conversation.)

After his surprise announcement, the president got the message that the faculty was upset and he ought to meet with the Faculty Senate.  He came to visit them Wednesday Feb 10, eleven days after the announcement.

I've been seeing and posting this story from the faculty's perspective, but now that the President's been to talk to the UAA Faculty Senate, we can fill in some of the gaps.  I'm going to look at this through the lens of cross-cultural miscommunication.

The Lessons:  

I listened to the discussion Wednesday between the president and the faculty. It was like listening to people from totally different cultures whose languages had the same words, but with different meanings.  Actually, I think it's easier when you go to a different country because you KNOW that you are going into a different culture, you know you can't understand the language easily, and so you expect there to be misunderstandings.  But when you are in your own country, in a city you've lived in many years, and the people all seem to be speaking a common language, it is much easier to forget you are, in fact, in a different culture.

Note:  I should also say that I spoke to the president after the meeting and it was cordial and he's sending me some information relevant to a post I did last year when he was selected as President.  I could always  be wrong here, but I felt that he was being sincere and open with the faculty and me.  And that is consistent with my longer term relationship with Tom Case, the new chancellor-select.  He also explained that the Chancellor decision was made prior to the January 31 announcement, that he had to get with the Board of Regents and then Tom Case.  Then Case wanted to notify his boss, so the Alaska Aerospace Corporation had more than a few hours to find a new COO.  But if he made the decision after the January 18 meeting, they had less than two weeks.

The president began by saying he'd been advised that shared governance was the most important thing he needed to know about the university system when he came into the position.  And he read a bunch of books on shared governance (the video starts just at the end of the book part) but that just wasn't enough and he hadn't fully realized what that meant in practical terms.  He apologized. And he opened it up for people to talk.

I'll slip in the video of that part right here so you can hear what he said.  Then I'll go through it and other things that were said from the two different cultural perspectives.

Much of what he heard from the faculty was about vocabulary.  Though he and the faculty were using the same words, they didn't mean the same thing.  I'll use some of the key terms as the outline for this discussion. 

Sense of Time - Let's get the easy ones out of the way.  Gamble said he had enough time for the search.  Chancellor Maimon had been hired in 8 months, so when he started in November,  he thought there was plenty of time.  Conception of time is a big difference between cultures.  Apparently,  he wasn't aware that there is a national academic hiring cycle, starting at the beginning of the school year.  For the highest positions, like Chancellor, they might even start earlier.

Searches that start later run the danger of missing the top candidates, who get and accept offers earlier.  By the time a search committee that started in November is ready to make an offer, the people still in the pool are often those passed over by other universities.  That's not hard and fast and you can be lucky.  And if your opening happens mid-cycle, you don't have any choice.  But in this case current Chancellor Fran Ulmer gave notice already last January putting UAA in a great position to get a good start for  Fall 2011.  President Hamilton publicly noted this and thanked her for being considerate enough to give so much lead time to replace her.  The way Gamble talked about the time -  he felt he had plenty - suggests he didn't understand this cycle.  It's the kind of thing you learn over time being in a new culture. And it's why you discuss what you're thinking with people who know the culture much better than you, why you have shared governance. Instead, his strategy was not to let people know what he was thinking, he said, so as not to create expectations.

Worldwide Search - this is a term Gamble used a number of times.  But people in the University system actually say 'nation-wide' or 'national' search.'  This isn't an issue here, but just another sign that he's still learning the language and perhaps his ear isn't that good.  Like any new language learner, he got the sense, but not the idiom.

Gamble emphasized this notion of national search and that he wasn't inclined to go that way if there were good Alaska candidates even though the faculty wanted such a search.  But the 'search' part is also important. Even if not national, the faculty expected the standard set of steps that happens with every search and so they were totally surprised when none of those steps had happened and Gamble simply announced a new Chancellor.

Downtowner - Another term Gamble used a lot.  One faculty member asked him what he meant.  Anchorage is not a big place, she said, and 'downtown' is where many government offices are, where her doctor's office is, and her kids' school is.  Did he consult with her doctor?  Her kids?  Or her kids' teachers?  The faculty live all over and some are 'downtowners.'  But we don't talk about people as 'downtowners.'  We do talk about the bigger university community.  Gamble responded that this was a term the Air Force used and perhaps he misspoke.  Again, not a biggie, but part of learning a new culture.  This idea of 'downtown' and its stake and say in the search came up again as part of the understanding of shared governance. 

Shared governance is the essence of how the university works.  This embodies the basic democratic principles of the United States.   Faculty, staff, and students are also involved in governance.  There's even a student on the Board of Regents.  There are even community people involved in governance. Things may take longer because democracy isn't always efficient, but when decisions are finally made, they have widespread support because the affected people had a chance to participate.  Gamble served 30+ years in the Air Force in defense of democracy around the world and the faculty expected him to support it in his own organization. 

From the discussion, I'd say the president and the faculty had real differences with two aspects of shared governance:  1)  How it's shared and 2) With whom it's shared.  

How it's shared

Basically, the custom is that major decisions are worked on by committees. (No snide comments about committees, please.  Democracy doesn't work without committees.   That's why learning to work in groups is such a critical skill.)  In some areas, the committee has the jurisdiction to make the final decision.  In others they present the final options to the decision maker - say a dean, or chancellor, or president - to decide.   If the dean  disagrees with the options offered, she has the right to make a different decision, BUT, and it's a big but, she better talk it through with the committee so she understands their rationale and they  understand her issues.  In most situations, they would work out an option they can both live with.

A dean or chancellor who disregards the committee's recommendation completely - as it appeared to the faculty the President did to their memo - will alienate the faculty and lose their support and cooperation in the future.  You don't need an MBA to understand this. The lowliest employee in any organization knows he can work slower, misplace materials and equipment, and use other guerrilla tactics to make up for lack of official organizational power. 

So, the faculty assumed that when the president started the search in late November, there would be a search committee made up of people chosen by various governance bodies that would represent the various constituencies in the university and community.  They knew the routine of a search because it's used for every faculty and administrator and follows the Board of Regents regulations. They were alarmed by his unaddressed 'flyer,' as one faculty member put it  (objecting to his word 'letter'), [Yes faculty can be nitpicky too] which hinted at skipping a search.   In response, they sent a memo back to him saying in essence, "Whoa, if you're gonna skip the search, then here's a person we can accept."  They got no response to that. Instead people in the president's office invited people to a committee meeting (that most uninvited people didn't know about) to talk about the search.  (The President did not allow his staff to be blamed for this at the meeting and took the responsibility himself.)

From the clip above and the rest of the meeting, it's clear to me that Gamble saw 'shared governance' as meaning, "I'll ask a bunch of stakeholders what they think and then I'll make my decision."

With Whom it's Shared

The president talked about all the stakeholders he talked with over two months.  Faculty, students, downtowners, even someone who caught him in the elevator at the Captain Cook.  One of the faculty members took him to task on this idea that everyone he meets has equal standing in this decision.  And he was clearly moved by her passion on this.   "I've devoted my life to a very low wage, not because I like making no money and having decisions made for me, by people not expert in my field, but because  believe in this and consider it a calling and a service.  I'm a faculty member, I'm not just a stakeholder, I'm a faculty member with a PhD who teaches and does research.  I matter more to this institution than a 'downtown' CEO of a bank.   If I go away and the faculty go away, you don't have a university."

Like in Animal Farm, not all animals are equal.  But in this case, with good reason.  The bank CEO is important as a supporter of the University, but he or she doesn't walk the streets asking the people of Anchorage whom to hire as bank manager.  And most public agencies don't either.  They rely on the people with specific expertise in that area.  But the university believes in shared governance and that extends into the community.   But we do assume that the faculty and staff and students are the experts here and will be much more affected by the choice of Chancellor and should have more say in the decision than people who have a more casual interest in the university. 

This came up again when the president talked about the - did he really say séance on that clip? - meeting he held in January.  He tells us that he threw out two issues, and, he said, the message to me was clear:  1)  Pat, you've got to make the final decision, and 2) We've got talent inside Alaska, let's hope we can find someone from here.  He took that to mean a national search wasn't necessary.  But another faculty member who was at that meeting said, "I objected and said we should have a national search and so did the other two faculty."  But the faculty voice was voided by all the other 'stakeholders.'

The president said he got lots of letters, so the faculty letter was just one of many.  Another faculty member pointed out that the letter from the Faculty Senate calling for a national search had been approved 44-0.  And each of those 44 represented 15 other faculty. (I'm not saying every faculty member agreed because that will never happen, but 44-0 in the Faculty Senate is pretty convincing.)  And it should have carried a lot more weight than the advice from some individual he bumped into in the elevator in the Captain Cook. 

Surely, as Commandant of Elmendorf, he gave more weight to the people working on the base about key base operational decisions than he did to the Chamber of Commerce.  Or maybe not.

Shared governance means people with different perspectives weigh in on the details of important decisions so that one person doesn't overlook something important or isn't swayed by some personal bias.  Especially when that one person doesn't really know the culture that well.  It doesn't mean three faculty at a two hour meeting with 30 other 'stakeholders.' Based on that initial 'flyer' to the world, Gamble was already leaning toward limiting the search to Alaska and he seems to have heard people who agreed with him much better than those who didn't. (In a normal search process, everyone who attends a presentation by a candidate is asked to submit written comments and so there is at least some quantifiable documented evidence of how many had what opinion.)

Accountability meets Shared Governance

Gamble used the term accountability frequently in the discussions.  While Gamble knew Wednesday that he'd made a mistake, he still had questions about exactly what 'shared governance' means.  (Not unreasonable, it takes time to get it.)  I'm paraphrasing here, but several times he said something like, "If the faculty tells me 'We want this person or else we do a national search' I can listen to that, but are you saying I have to do it?  Because ultimately I'm responsible, I'm the one who is accountable, not the faculty." 

And the faculty did send such a letter.  They'd gotten his email late November which said he was starting the search (and they thought he'd wasted a lot of important time already getting started) and in the letter there was a paragraph saying:
I am mindful that the last formal, national UAA chancellor search in 2003-2004 cost $250,000* and took eight months.  I am equally mindful that all three of our current chancellors, who I personally consider exceptionally talented leaders and working partners, were not selected through an extended and costly formal search process.  Considering these past experiences I believe we should remain open minded about a method that will lead to the best outcome for UAA and the state.
[Note,  this did say 'national' not 'world-wide.']

Just before that, the letter said,
Please send me your comments and suggestions.  If you actually have a candidate name to offer, at this point it's not too early to advise me of your recommendations.
The faculty had assumed the search would be run like every other search, but were concerned that he was already saying we might not need a national search because all the Chancellors we have now are great and they weren't from national searches.

So they responded, fearing the national search might be scrapped, with a memo from the Faculty Senate saying, in part:
But, if you opt for a direct hire, the only person Faculty Senate would support is Mike Driscoll because he was hired as Provost after a national search, he has performed well as Provost, he knows UAA perhaps better than any other applicants for the position, and he has served as Acting Chancellor several times as Chancellor Ulmer has worked on the Presidential Oil Spill Commission. 
After hearing Gamble speak Wednesday about accountability, I'm guessing that he took that letter as an ultimatum, possibly an impossible demand given his take on accountability.  But coming from the University culture, I read it as a very loud - "hey, we're serious, we want a national search, but if you really are thinking of cutting it out, we know Driscoll and we'd be comfortable with him as Chancellor."   This wasn't an ultimatum, it was an alarmed memo, worried about what an Air Force general who is now the University President was going to do. (We don't know your culture and you don't know ours!) They weren't expecting him to roll over and choose Driscoll, but they did want him to know that a national search was how we normally do things - even if we have a local candidate - and they expected there would at least be a lot more discussion.  Minimally, they expected that there would be shared governance, a search committee that would go through all the candidates, and make recommendations to the President, and he'd pick from one of the acceptable finalists.  As was the case in the search the resulted in Gamble becoming president. 

Accountability seems to be an important term in the Air Force,  maybe on a par with 'shared governance' at the university.  Here's an excerpt from a paper by Lt Col Jackie Tillery done for a course at Maxwell Air Force Base, dated April 1997 (a few years before Gamble retired),  called "Authority:  Inconsistent, Situation Dependent and Subjective."

It's larger and clearer if you double click it

So the faculty's understanding of 'shared governance' seems to have come into conflict with Gamble's understanding of accountability. 


The president used the term 'outcome' a number of times.  "I'm an outcomes guy."  Outcomes is a hot management word.  Outcomes people are no-nonsense types.  It fits well with accountability.  Without good ways to track outcomes, you can't have accountability. Far too many organizations continue to do things the way they've always done them even if they're no longer effective, if their outcomes are poor - say, too many students drop out.   And I'm somewhat of an outcomes guy myself.  Outcomes are why an organization exists.  But with some caveats.  Everyone who matters  needs to participate in defining the outcomes.  And some important outcomes are a lot more measurable than others.  The less tangible ones shouldn't be sacrificed because they aren't as easy to quantify.  And a set of outcome numbers can't substitute for informed understanding.  Thus the protests against "No Child Left Behind."

Here, the president had already come up with his list of criteria for the new chancellor in the letter that announced the beginning of the search.  These characteristics might be good for what an Air Force general wants for one of his team, but do they cover everything needed in a University Chancellor?   Out of 15 lines, there's only this to hint this is a university chancellor position and not some generic leader:
We need someone with . . . an unwavering belief in the efficacy of shared governance, and a leader who actively promotes the value of academic and research integrity. [click here for the whole memo]
And outcomes don't justify the means.  In this case the means relate to a search process. I've already discussed the participatory nature of the search process at the University of Alaska as a manifestation of the idea of shared governance.  But there's another aspect - the technical procedures for filling a position as spelled out in the Board of Regents Regulations.


The two of you who have read this far already know there's a gap between the president's model and the faculty's model of a search.

The President's Model, as he described it in the video, was to gather information from a wide range of people and then, because there were two highly qualified Alaskans he knew who fit the criteria he'd written up himself, when people said a national search wasn't necessary, he chose one.   (Herbert Simon described this in the 1950's as satisficing - taking the first option that meets your minimum qualifications and not trying to get the best possible outcome.  He did say this was a rational way to avoid spending too much effort getting more than you needed. Good enough is good enough.)

The Faculty's Model.  The University of Alaska has a professional selection process which includes
  • announcing the opening in standard public media so that people interested in such jobs would know to apply and people aren't discriminated against because they don't have inside connections
  • screening processes with criteria and rating systems so that the subjective judgments of raters can be objectified as much as possible against the stated criteria and several people evaluate the applicants to minimize the risk of bias - intentional or unintentional
  • a record of how each candidate was scored by each rater so if there is any legal challenge to the decision, all the paper work is available
The Board of Regents Regulations spell out what is needed for a hiring:

R04.03.014. Recruitment Procedure: Employment Process.

A.    The hiring official will:

1.    develop the vacancy announcement and advertising copy;

2.    develop screening and evaluation criteria;

3.    select the screening committee/individual screeners;

4.    conduct interviews and reference checks;

5.    select the best qualified candidate based on job-related criteria and available information;

6.    obtain approval for the recruitment process from the regional human resources office prior to making the job offer;

7.    for staff positions, identify appropriate starting salary in conjunction with the human resources office, and obtain authorization from the human resources office to offer the position and the approved salary;

8.    for faculty positions, identify appropriate starting salary and obtain authorization from the Provost, or designee, to offer the position at the approved salary;

9.    offer the position;

10.    notify unsuccessful candidates;

11.    submit required reports and documentation to the regional human resource office; and

12.    forward recruitment records to the regional human resources office or maintain the records for the required period of time.
This is consistent with Federal and State merit system rules, professional personnel standards, and national standards for recruiting University Chancellors.  This is not some unique University of Alaska custom.

While there are some exceptions in the regulations - they don't seem to cover this hire.  (This search didn't  involve Temporary or Emergency Hires, someone from an underrepresented class, or Casual Labor for example.)

So it isn't remarkable that the faculty were expecting the Chancellor search to comply with Board of Regents regulations which would have meant the process officially had barely even started.  

While it's true that the president makes the final decision on the selection of the chancellor, I can't find where this means he can by-pass all the regulations for announcing the position and evaluating the candidates.  

The president seemed particularly eager to avoid the expense and time of a national search, but even an in-state search should include all the steps outlined in the Personnel Rules of the Board of Regents regulations.

I know enough about rules and bureaucracies to know that there are often back ways to get waivers to not follow the regulations in some cases.  If they were waived, who did it, when,  and what was the justification?  

As the president related the process in the video tape above, he never mentioned anything about the regulations, that he got approval from HR for  the job announcement, that he created any rating scales for evaluating the candidates, or even that he got all this waived.

In fact, when one of the faculty members said something like "every faculty and  administrative position has to go through all the steps so why wouldn't the chancellor?"  he seemed to be genuinely surprised.  And he experienced some of these steps himself last spring as an applicant for his current job.  So he knew that the process includes more than asking people for suggestions and then making a decision.  Even in the speeded up President search process last year, there were public forums in Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Juneau for all the three finalists and feedback from everyone before a decision was made. 

I'm not sure how people get appointed to positions in the Air Force.  I know there is a very demanding evaluation system that all officers go through regularly.  Perhaps a general can just pick his preferred candidate without justification - but those candidates come from a pool of people who are eligible to apply for that position and who have been carefully vetted.  In this case, according to the president, there were two Alaska candidates that he knew.  There was no mention  of developing evaluation standards, of reviewing candidates against those standards, or anything remotely like that.  I don't even know if he got applications from both candidates or not. 

I've said there was a clash of cultures here - and if you'd been at the meeting, I'm sure you would agree.  Every successful organization has its own culture that is appropriate for the kind of work they do and while organizations sometimes bring outsiders into the culture, they don't generally have half their top leadership from the same alien culture unless it's a hostile takeover.   It takes time to learn a culture, to understand the language, to know all the rules and procedures.  Gamble's apology and acknowledgment he'd made a mistake, while appreciated, show the consequences of not understanding the culture.

More than culture

Writing this has given me time to think things through.   The president presented himself during the search for his own position as an experienced manager with an MBA.  He was into strategic planning and achieving outcomes.  One outcome of the search - Tom Case as Chancellor - could have been much worse.  Though, as I said in the very first post on this appointment, the collective impact on the University of Alaska is a very homogeneous top four positions and does not reflect the diversity of the faculty, students, or the state. But the other outcome was a very alienated faculty and people raising questions about cronyism.

Being an outcomes guy shouldn't mean you are oblivious to the process.  Cause the impact of a bad process IS an outcome.

As he described the search process, I didn't hear any evidence of the human resources class he must have had as part of his MBA.  There was no process.  There was no official announcement of a position.  No system for rating the candidates.  It appears there were no official candidates even.  Just a couple of names he knew about.

The strategic planner was doing this by the seat of his pants.  "It was a process that wasn't laid out yet.  I wanted to see where this process was going to take me."  And it doesn't seem to have taken him to the Board of Regents Regulations governing hiring at the University.  I'm guessing the HR people found some loophole to waive requirements.  Did this happen before or after he announced his decision?  But what was the justification?  Covering up for a president who didn't know there were any rules?

Gamble's education isn't in chemistry or Arabic language.  Those fields  don't teach management as part of their program.  But Gamble has an MBA and 30+ years in the Air Force, so he should understand that organizations don't operate in a vacuum, that there are processes designed to deal with routine activities like job searches.  (Maybe this is how they do things at the Railroad.)   I can give him slack for not understanding the shared governance part, but the hiring steps are pretty standard and basic in the private sector as well as the public sector.  While he sounded open and honest with the faculty, and acknowledging one's mistakes and apologizing mean a lot, what I heard at the meeting now raises new questions for me about how this all happened.  And where were the staff who should have let him know the University rules?  Are they all yes men? And what about the Board of Regents?

Is it any wonder the faculty are concerned?  

*Also, I don't doubt someone told the President that the last UAA chancellor search cost $250,000, but as I think about it, I don't see how it could have been that expensive.  $10,000 each to fly up three candidates from Outside should be way more than adequate. Another $20,000 for advertising.  That would leave another $200,000 to go.  Did they count the time all committee members spent on this?  That wouldn't be a real expense because all the committee members' time was out of their own hide.  The faculty still had classes to teach and research to write.  Administrators still had their jobs to do.  Most would be salaried and not getting overtime.  If that's what they negotiated with a professional search company, I'd like to see the profit margin the company got off this contract.  In any case, I think the $250,000 was something of an easy excuse for not going national and that a reasonable search could have been done for considerably less than that.  

OK, my next three posts will be under 1200 words. :)

All the posts on this topic:

Feb. 1, 2011
The Alaska Military-Educational Complex: Gen. Tom Case to be New UAA Chancellor 

Feb. 5, 2011
UAA Faculty Senate Upset about Chancellor Appointment Process

Feb. 7, 2011
Former Lt. Gov Craig Campbell Replaces Tom Case as Head of Alaska Aerospace Corporation

Feb. 9, 2011
UA President Apologizes to UAA Fauclty

Cronyism and the University of Alaska

Feb. 12, 2011
Choosing a Chancellor:  One Decision, Two Cultures


  1. Gamble's "outcomes" worldview and military mindset do not bode well for an institution of higher learning. This is someone who is used to giving orders and having them carried out, rather than embracing collaboration and consensus. This is someone who is used to having people work FOR him rather than WITH him. Gamble's meeting with the Faculty Senate revealed a deeper ignorance of academic culture and a confusion of priorities regarding the true lifeblood of a university: its students and faculty. Last time I looked, UAA was not a military academy...yet.

  2. I was at the meeting, too, and you've captured the very obvious differences between the cultures. I, too, was left wondering who advises the president. How could he not have known about the search process we've all either gone through and/or participated in? How could he have misunderstood the way university hirings of such import work? Either he had terrible advice (or no advice), he doesn't listen well to his staff, he didn't care about the process, or he's simply a poor manager.

    Also, if he did request some sort of waiver, that would mean he did understand the process.

    I did appreciate his apology and his willingness to meet the faculty and listen to their comments and criticisms. I, too, felt he was sincere.
    But I found it truly disconcerting that the university president could have made a mistake of this magnitude. He should feel extremely lucky that at least his choice was not met with universal horror.

    I also did not understand what he meant by "accountability." To me, it sounded simply like a word for "I could lose my job," as if only his personal interests are at stake. But it does not seem like he faces anything of a disciplinary nature or even a reprimand or close questioning by the Board of Regents.

    I'm wondering if he didn't charge ahead, and now the regents will they have to back his decision because they surely can't rescind the appointment, and they can't afford to have a new president who does not seem to have their confidence.

    Thank you for the analysis.

  3. Strange. If an 18 year old applies for a check-out job at Carrs there is more process than demonstrated here.

  4. There are companies that use expedientes de contratacion to make the process much simpler. That is why it is important to look for a great provider when it comes to this matter.


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