Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Cronyism and the University of Alaska

Patrick Gamble and the University got married less than a year ago.  And here he's gone out and bought a '56 Corvette from a buddy who gave him a good deal, without consulting his spouse who had a new Subaru in mind.  Is this going to be the pattern in this marriage or is he going to talk things out next time before he makes what should be a family decision?   This spouse isn't like his first two.  She expects to be a full partner in this marriage she was pressured into. Is he going to have to be firm until she shapes up or can he learn to enjoy life with an equal partner?

For a linked list of the other posts on the Chancellor search click here.

This post comes in several parts:
  1. What is cronyism?
  2. Is the appointment of Tom Case as UAA Chancellor by his fellow retired Air Force general an example of cronyism? (An aside raises the same question about Craig Campbell's appointment as Case's replacement at the Alaska Aerospace Corporation.)
  3. Why is this worth blogging about?

[This is a long post, so here's a brief SYNOPSIS:  Case's appointment fits three of the four criteria of cronyism and may well fit part of the fourth.  President Gamble's decision to by-pass a normal participatory search process and to ignore unanimous Faculty Senate recommendations makes the case for cronyism more plausible.  This suspicion is exacerbated by Case's same day replacement as head of the Alaska Aerospace Corporation.  With that said, Case is clearly qualified to head UAA, but not necessarily the best qualified.  The faculty and students and rest of the campus community have to determine whether Gamble has knowingly abused his power to hire a friend or truly didn't understand the academic culture.  If the latter, he has demonstrated why bringing in another leader from outside the academic culture is problematic to many.  The UAA community will also have to assess whether Gamble is willing and capable of respecting and adopting the culture.]

1.   What is CRONYISM?

Cronyism: partiality to cronies especially as evidenced in the appointment of political hangers-on to office without regard to their qualifications  (Merriam Webster online)

So, what's a crony?   From Websters online dictionary:

Specialty Definition: crony

Domain Definition
Noah Webster [Noun] An intimate companion; an associate; a familiar friend. To oblige your crony Swift, bring our dame a new years gift. Hence, an old crony is an intimate friend of long standing.. Source: Webster's 1828 American Dictionary.
Literature Crony A familiar friend. An old crony is an intimate of times gone by. Probably crone with the diminutive ie for endearment, and equivalent to "dear old fellow," "dear old boy." (See Crone.). Source: Brewer's Dictionary.
Slang in 1811 CRONY. An intimate companion, a comrade; also a confederate in a robbery. Source: 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.
Wiktionary 1: [Noun] Close friend. (references)
2: [Noun] Trusted companion or partner in a criminal organization. (references)

Let's look at a few more ways to define Cronyism:

From the business dictionary online:  
The act of showing partiality to one's close friends, typically by appointing them to a position in a company or organization despite the individual not necessarily being the best person for the position. Although this is [sic] favoritism is frowned upon in many cases, it is often hard to determine what is or is not cronyism. In general it is not wrong to hire or appoint someone you know, as long as they are well qualified, so the boundary between the two scenarios is very unclear. Although accusations of cronyism are prevalent, they very rarely amount to any disciplinary action or removals from power. See also nepotism.

from Encarta:
doing favors for friends: special treatment and preference given to friends or colleagues, especially in politics ( disapproving)

Most of the definitions I found were close variations of these.  So from these  definitions we can pull out the common factors:

  1. Partiality or favoritism

  2. Towards a good friend

  3. Usually through an appointment to a position for which the friend is

  4. Unqualified OR not the best qualified

Wikipedia's discussion of cronyism gives more nuance to the term showing why it happens and how it relates to other terms we know such as networking or good old boys system:
Governments are particularly susceptible to accusations of cronyism, as they spend public money. Many democratic governments are encouraged to practice administrative transparency in accounting and contracting, however, there often is no clear delineation of when an appointment to government office is "cronyism".
It is not unusual for a politician to surround him- or herself with highly-qualified subordinates, and to develop social, business, or political friendships leading to the appointment to office of friends, likewise in granting government contracts. In fact, the counsel of such friends is why the officeholder successfully obtained his or her powerful position — therefore, cronyism usually is easier to perceive than to demonstrate and prove.
In the private sector, cronyism exists in organizations, often termed 'the old boys club' or 'the golden circle', again the boundary between cronyism and 'networking' is difficult to delineate.
Moreover, cronyism describes relationships existing among mutual acquaintances in private organizations where business, business information, and social interaction are exchanged among influential personnel. This is termed crony capitalism, and is an ethical breach of the principles of the market economy; in advanced economies, crony capitalism is a breach of market regulations, e.g., the Enron fraud is an extreme example of crony capitalism.

2. Is the appointment of Tom Case by his fellow retired Air Force general an example of cronyism?


Cronyism, like most things, isn't either/or, isn't black or white.  There are situations which are clearly not and situations which clearly are, and more ambiguous ones in the middle.  But let's go through these four factors:
  1. Partiality or favoritism
    We know that UA President Gamble knew there would be a vacancy for the UAA Chancellorship even before he took the job.  It was ten months after Chancellor Ulmer announced she would retire, before Gamble began the search process late November 2010.
    We know that the UAA Faculty Senate - on notice that Gamble was considering skipping a national search - unanimously recommended their Provost as the candidate they could live with should he choose to NOT have a national search.
    We know the next public step was that Gamble appointed Tom Case to be Chancellor.

  2. Towards a good friend (All Air Force career information comes from the Air Force webpages for Gamble and Case.)

    Gamble graduated from Texas A&M and became a student, undergraduate pilot training, Randolph Air Force Base, Texas  in 1967. 
    Case graduated from the Air Force Academy and became a student in the Undergraduate Pilot Training, Laughlin AFB, Texas in 1969.
    I'm not sure when they met, but both careers included assignments in Vietnam, Korea, Europe, and Washington DC. 

    Gamble (August 1996 - November 1997) and Case (October 1998 - September 2000) were both commander, Alaskan Command, Alaskan North American Aerospace Defense Command Region, 11th Air Force and Joint Task Force Alaska, Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.

    And they served together in Hawaii when Gamble (July 1998 - May 2001) was
    commander, Pacific Air Forces, Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, and Case  (September 2000 - July 2002) was Deputy Commander in Chief and Chief of Staff, U.S. Pacific Command, Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii.

    From the US Pacific Command website: we learn, if I read this right, that Gamble would have reported directly to Case's boss.
    Commander, U.S. Pacific Command (CDRUSPACOM) is the senior U.S. military authority in the Pacific Command AOR.  CDRUSPACOM reports to the President of the United States through the Secretary of Defense and is supported by four component commands: U.S. Pacific Fleet, U.S. Pacific Air Forces, U.S. Army Pacific, and U.S. Marine Forces, Pacific.  These commands are headquartered in Hawai’i and have forces stationed and deployed throughout the region. 
    Both men retired to Anchorage where Gamble became head of the Alaska Railroad and Case became, first, Dean of the UAA College of Business and Public Affairs (where he was my boss) and then COO of the Alaska Aerospace Corporation. 

  3. Usually through an appointment to a position for which the friend is

    Search committees are the norm for faculty and high level administrative positions at the University of Alaska Anchorage - usually national searches.  The previous Chancellors at UAA and UAF were not selected through nationwide searches, but faculty and community members were involved and approved of the selections.  See previous post footnote beginning at "*I'd point out" for how those searches were conducted.

    In this case,
    • Nov. 23, 2010:  the President announced the beginning of the search and hinted at skipping a national search because there were good Alaskan candidates. 
    • Dec. 6, 2010:  The faculty responded by proposing the current UAA Provost for Chancellor.  If not him, then they wanted a national search. 
    • Jan 18, 2011: The President brought together a committee and asked them to come up with characteristics of a good Chancellor.
    • Jan 31, 2011:  The President announced Tom Case as the new Chancellor

    The President skipped the normal search process, rejected the faculty's proposed candidate without consultation, did not consult with the faculty or other normal constituents about possible specific candidates, and simply selected someone he'd known in his previous career who was also a personal friend. 

  4. Unqualified OR not the best qualified

    Unqualified?  - The Chancellor has a leadership position which requires good management skills and an ability to work well in the community for  university support and partnerships and for fund raising.  Generally, someone from inside the academic profession with the highest academic credentials (a doctorate) is chosen because they know the culture and norms of the institution they will lead.  This is  occasionally waived if the candidate has other remarkable qualities. 

    Tom Case does not have a doctorate, but he has a masters in systems management and a great deal of education and training in the Air Force plus experience leading large organizations.  He also spent five years as Dean of UAA's College of Business and Public Affairs.  In that position he expanded his widespread contacts in Anchorage and Alaska developed earlier as Commandant of Elmendorf Air Force Base.

    There is no question in my mind that Tom Case is qualified for this position.

    Best Qualified?
    - This is a question that might still be debated if there were a national search and there were several candidates.  There might never be absolute unanimity.  There are factors to criticize with his candidacy.
    • He doesn't have an academic background so he doesn't understand the culture of people he will be leading.  But this isn't enough to make him unacceptable.  Sometimes an outsider can bring in new ideas.  Another factor arises if we take the macro view.  Not just how this decision affects the one campus - UAA - but the impact on the University of Alaska system.  As I've pointed out in a previous post.
      • There will now be four white males over 60 without terminal degrees in the four top posts of the university.  While these four men are each unique individuals and have their own perspectives and experiences, 
        • having other perspectives is both symbolically and substantively important.  The fact that this wasn't considered too important by the President is also troubling.  Also, as I've said, 
        • having outsiders in academia is not necessarily a bad thing.  But two retired Air Force generals in the top four positions seems redundant. We've wasted an opportunity to have a different perspective among the top four positions.  Why?  Simply because Gamble is more comfortable with an old Air Force colleague?  That's not good enough unless he brings in other qualities so special they make him clearly better than other candidates.

  5. But we can't even consider whether he is the best candidate because there are no other candidates.
So, is this cronyism?  Pat Gamble hasn't told us his motives (other than saving money by not having a national search).  It is clear that it meets at least three and possibly four of the standard benchmarks of cronyism.
  1. He used partiality or favoritism - he chose someone he already knew and was partial to without letting any other applicants into the process.  He chose another academic cultural immigrant from the Air Force.  While he may think he has simply chosen the best possible person for the position, in fact he picked a friend without considering others.   He didn't even discuss with the faculty the person they recommended and why they supported him and why he (Gamble) didn't. 

    But he clearly decided that despite coming from a different organizational culture - two actually if we include his time with the Alaska Railroad which seems to be a particularly 'good old boy' system - that he knew better than the faculty, without even having to talk to them about their candidate and his.  Or any other possible candidates a nationwide search would produce.

  2. The person he chose is a personal friend and professional colleague.

  3. He did this through an appointment that was a deviation from the standard process.  While there had been some deviation in past appointments, this one was extreme by totally excluding the faculty and others in the university community.  The past searches for UAA and UAF chancellors deviated by not having a national search, but the conditions were different and shared governance wasn't abandoned in those cases.  One major concern, I understand, for the faculty is fear that the exceptions will become the new norm and this appointment will set a precedent for skipping national searches and search committees altogether.

  4. Tom Case is clearly qualified, but not necessarily the best qualified.  We don't know whether he is the best qualified because Gamble's process excluded competition against which to measure Case.  
The suspect nature of this case is exacerbated by the fact that on the same day that Gamble sent out his email announcing that he had chosen Case, the Alaska Aerospace Corporation  announced that Case had been replaced by former Lt. Governor Craig Campbell whose term had recently ended - another former Air Force/National Guard General (though elevated, as I understand it, through a different procedure to fill the position of Adjutant General of the Alaska Air National Guard, and promoted to Lt. General by Gov. Sarah Palin.)

How hard is it to imagine Gamble and Case and Campbell at a party discussing what Campbell would do after his term was over?  "You know, there's an opening for Chancellor coming up.  I can appoint Tom to that - he was a dean there already - and then Craig, you can take Tom's spot."  Actually, I do have trouble imagining Tom Case in that meeting, but somebody must have discussed this for it all to happen so quickly and smoothly.  Too quickly. Too smoothly. 

The University of Alaska is a state organization and the Aerospace Corporation is state created and largely state funded. These are positions with serious salaries. The Chancellor gets about $250,000 plus benefits.

3. Why is this worth blogging about?

I've learned over the years that cronyism, like other ethical infractions, is  "something that other people do, but not me."   While working with Municipal Assembly members, for example, on rewriting the Municipal Code of Ethics, I had assembly members defend their right to have lobbyists pay for their lunches with reactions like, "Are you suggesting I could be bribed for a $20 lunch?"  I had two responses:  1)  How expensive a lunch would it take?  and 2) If $20 is trivial, then why don't you pay for the lunch yourself?   But I got the point.  Other people were unethical, but even hinting they might be was insulting.

Most people, particularly those who have dressed themselves in society's symbols of legitimacy, rarely recognize when they do something wrong. Tom Delay, for example, is still protesting his innocence.  If Gamble reads this, while he might acknowledge some of the points theoretically, he'd probably say that, practically, he'd made the right decision and he'd do it again.  And that's why I'm covering this in such detail.  He shouldn't do something like this again.  And if he does, it won't be out of ignorance.

Broader Issues

1.  The University of Alaska is a large public organization with a budget over $1 billion.  The FY2012 operating budget alone is $884,983.300.  The capital budget is another $212,525,500.  (To put this in context, the Governor's proposed total operating budget for the State of Alaska is $5.45 billion.  To be fair here, only $350 million of the UA budget comes from the State.  But the total operating budget is 1/5 the State's operating budget.)   How the University is run should be of concern to Alaskans.

2.  The University of Alaska is the main institution for higher education in the state of Alaska.  How it operates, its emphases on one approach to education or another, will greatly affect the future of the state.  Nationally, great changes have been going on in higher education as university budgets have almost matched health care for significant increases. Legislators have reacted with calls for more efficiency.  A business metaphor has replaced the idea of education.  Students have been changed into customers and education has become preparation for a job rather than for life.  "How?" is replacing "Why?" as the basic question for college students.  There are legitimate questions about what universities do and how they do it.  But there are also many simplistic answers floating around. 

Facing these changes requires people who both understand education and who understand what parts of traditional education are essential to keep and how to move into the future taking advantage of new technology to make education better, but without making it superficial.  So Alaskans, even those not involved in the University, have a huge stake in what happens in the administration of the University.

Specific Issues - Consequences of Skipping a Search

1.   Credibility of the President's Commitment to Shared Governance

The President, in his November letter announcing the beginning of the search, said the new chancellor should have "an unwavering belief in the efficacy of shared governance."  Either the President
  • doesn't have such a belief himself, 
  • doesn't understand this the same way it's understood by faculty and staff and students, or 
  • didn't want to risk not getting his preferred candidate.  
There was no shared governance in this decision.  Gamble muffed an opportunity to be a University President and instead acted as the University CEO.  Chancellor Case was appointed by the President with no meaningful participation of the UAA community.  Not only did Gamble choose someone against the Faculty Senate's unanimous recommendation, but he did not bother to discuss his reasons why before he made the appointment or why he scrapped any semblance of a search.

When push comes to shove, this new Chancellor will be clearly and unequivocally representing the President in Anchorage rather than representing the UAA community to the President.  This is not shared governance.

2.  Legitimacy

The odor of cronyism floats over this appointment.  Even if Tom Case is the best possible chancellor - which we really can't judge given the lack of other candidates to compare him to - skipping over the process leaves a residue of suspicion and distrust.  Had there been an open process with several candidates, the President may have risked that his preferred candidate was not recommended.  He then would have had to make a decision - either to accept the search committee's recommendation or to still choose his preferred candidate.  Gamble didn't take that gamble.  The odds would have been in his favor.  Usually such a committee identifies acceptable candidates and possibly a preferred candidate.  Had Case made the acceptable list, his legitimacy would have been assured, and this would not have been seen as a possible case of cronyism.  Odds are good this would have happened.

Instead the new Chancellor comes in under a cloud.  And there is antagonism between the faculty and President. 

3.  Communication

The time that a search committee puts into developing criteria for a position is time where people have to articulate their values and their models of education and universities.  There is a lot of give and take, people reveal themselves, and relationships are built.  This would have been a great opportunity for the President, who comes from alien organizational cultures, to have gotten an intimate look at this new culture he now heads.  That opportunity has been lost.


This is a post I wish I didn't have to write, but I feel strongly that if the President continues in this path the relationship between him and the faculty will get more and more strained.  The faculty are in an awkward position.  They don't want to spend their time taking on the President, they'd much rather work cooperatively with the head of the University system to make the university a better place.   But a lot of them think they've been rolled by the President and don't want it to happen again. 

My sense is that while they feel misused and are concerned about the future, they are willing to accept and support Tom Case.  They also have to assess Gamble.  Was this a willful decision to by-pass the process to make sure his Air Force colleague and friend would get the position or simply a cultural blunder?  If the latter, is he willing and capable of respecting this new (for him) culture and concepts like shared governance? Did he know buying this Corvette behind her back was wrong, but did it quick before she could say no? Or is he just not used to having to check with the spouse? And how's he going to behave next time there's a family decision to be made?

This has been a long post because none of the other news media are covering the story, except the UAA student newspaper, Northern Light, and I want to document the complexities of this situation as best as I can for the record.

I expect that Tom Case will be a good Chancellor at UAA.  I worked with him in the College of Business and Public Affairs and respect him as an honorable and sensitive man of considerable ability.

But in a democracy, the ends don't justify the means.  Prisoners get released when the police or courts have violated procedures set up to protect their rights.  The President had more than enough lead time to fill this vacancy properly.  And as one of his first major acts of significance, it behooved him to do it right.  He didn't.  Wednesday he's coming to Anchorage to talk to the UAA faculty.  Whether the future will be rocky or smooth will depend on how that meeting goes.

The university can be a frustrating place because democracy can be frustrating. Democracy allows time for people to have their say and be listened to.  And I myself could point out to ways I would streamline things - but not at the expense of serious shared governance.

One needs to remember, "It's not WHAT you do, but the WAY you do it."


  1. It is a sad time to be a UAA student or faculty member. This is not only cronyism, it is clearly a militarization of the University from the top down.

  2. Thank you for this excellent, clear-headed approach to this issue. I have taught at UAA for 10 years and at UAF for a few years before that. Only in the past few years under Chancellor Ulmer and Provost Driscoll has it felt as if we've had any semblance of competent, open-minded, and fair administration. I truly wonder about President Gamble's ability to manage the university after this. Either he willfully ignored the factors you've mentioned, or he doesn't respect his faculty and the public process in general. Either way, right now he seems untrustworthy and ill-suited for his position. Further conflict seems inevitable if this is his management style.

    What's also frustrating is how little recourse we have to redress this poor decision aside from complaining about it. I especially appreciate your posts as journalists have ignored it, aside from the student paper (and good for them).

  3. You know a lot; thanks for providing your expert reflection. I am curious to learn about the president's meeting with the UAA faculty, whether the faculty emerges believing its been heard. Downstream decision making by Gamble will reveal whether that's actually the case. I'll have to pick up a copy of the Northern Light.


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