This is a positive development. There's been a lot of backlash both inside and outside the university to the $320,000 retention bonus the board of regents voted to give the president. The board president has strongly defended the bonus as the right thing to do, making it hard for her to back down now. So the president's asking them to review it is a way for them to do so and save face. But it sounds so half-hearted.
As I read the release, I noticed that the president danced around the issue. He doesn't ask the board to withdraw the bonus. He doesn't say he won't take the bonus. And most importantly, he doesn't assure that board that he will stay to finish the Shaping Alaska's Future project that board president Jacobson touted as key evidence of the exemplary work the president was doing.
“I very much appreciate the board’s support, but this issue will remain the elephant in the room every time we meet with faculty, staff, a donor or a legislator,” Gamble said. “The decision ultimately is up to the board, but the timing isn’t right and I think the board is very sensitive to that now.”"The decision ultimately is up to the board." As I see it, it is ultimately up to President Gamble. He can refuse it. He can return it to one of the various funds and foundations at the university. In an earlier post, I cited the example of Raymond Burse, interim president of Kentucky State University who gave $90,000 of his salary to raise the salary of minimum wage employees at KSU.
Gamble made the remarks during a noon presentation of the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce today. He said he couldn’t predict what the board will do, but feels certain the board will consider the situation with the public sentiment in mind."
One could argue this phrasing is simply a reflection of the president's long military career and he's following the university chain of command, deferring to the board at the top. (And his wording suggests the board was out of touch when he says, "the board is very sensitive to that now.")
But that's one of the problems many at the university have with the president. The university isn't a military organization with a rigid chain of command. It's a collaborative organization where governance is democratic and collegial.
Most vexing to me is the lack of assurance from the president that he will stay to finish the work he's begun, at least until June 2016. I understand the board's concern that they might have to conduct a search for a new president. Searches can be expensive and finding a good candidate who will accept the position is not assured.
This retention bonus covers three years, starting in June 2013 when the last contract ended. There's no explanation of why it took a year to renew the contract, but the practical consequence is that over one-third of the retention bonus time has already passed, and as of today, there are only 22 months left in the new contract. Surely the president could assure the board, for the sake of a smooth and well planned transition, that he will stay until then. That would give the board the security of knowing he plans to stay and remove the need for such a bonus. Does he not plan to stay? Is that why he doesn't say it?
Instead, he says "the timing isn't right." Does that mean they should wait for a better time?
OK, as someone who writes every day, I know that it is easy to misinterpret what someone says. Every reader reads the words differently. I'm just saying that as a retired faculty member with 30 years at UAA, I felt that the president could have made a statement that was more in tune with the university culture. He needed to send several messages to several constituencies (the regents, the university community, the state), both with what he said and how he said it:
- I've learned about the university culture, I've learned your language and values
- I assure you I'll finish the work I started and stay until June 2016, and so there's no need for a retention bonus
- Given the state's and university's budget problems, giving me a bonus big enough to pay for three senior faculty is inappropriate.
- I urge the board to rescind the bonus and use that money to save programs we have had to cut instead. [I'd note though, that this is future money, not current money.]
Of the four statements above, the only one he made was #3, and that was supported this way:
"The retention incentive has become a negative distraction at a time when there is a great need for all levels of the university community to pull together."The problem, he says, is that the bonus is a distraction. He doesn't say it was wrong. It seems he still doesn't get it.
Here's the whole email sent out:
Dear University of Alaska Employee:
Please be aware that the following media release is being issued this afternoon. We wanted you to know about this prior to reading it in the press:
For Immediate Release
Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014
UA’s Gamble requests board to review retention incentive
University of Alaska President Pat Gamble has requested the 11-member Board of Regents revisit the issue of a $320,000 retention incentive approved in June.
The board is scheduled to gather in a special meeting Sept. 8 in Anchorage, largely to meet in executive session to discuss financial and budgetary issues. However, Gamble said he anticipates the regents will take another look at the retention incentive, which would be payable at the end of his current three-year contract in May 2016.
The timing of the retention incentive, while offered with good intentions, has been difficult to justify in the public eye as UA works to meet current and expected budgetary and enrollment challenges, Gamble said. It comes at a time when higher education nationally is undergoing rapid change, as students and parents expect greater results, more efficiency and more accountability from public colleges and universities. The retention incentive has become a negative distraction at a time when there is a great need for all levels of the university community to pull together, Gamble said.
“I very much appreciate the board’s support, but this issue will remain the elephant in the room every time we meet with faculty, staff, a donor or a legislator,” Gamble said. “The decision ultimately is up to the board, but the timing isn’t right and I think the board is very sensitive to that now.”
Gamble made the remarks during a noon presentation of the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce today. He said he couldn’t predict what the board will do, but feels certain the board will consider the situation with the public sentiment in mind.
The regents approved the retention incentive at the June 5-6, 2014 meeting. It was intended to reward performance, with a powerful inducement for Gamble to remain on the job through the end of his contract in May 2016 and to continue forward momentum on the Shaping Alaska’s Future initiative.
“I’d like to put this issue to rest, and for myself, my administration, all of our campus leaders and the regents to focus on the tough tasks ahead, moving the University of Alaska into a stronger, more efficient and highly effective student-centered institution that is worthy of the highest expectations of Alaskans,” Gamble said.