Saturday, September 20, 2014

UA President's Bonus Rescinded And Fuller Cowell, The Regent Who Voted No

This is old news, but I want to complete the story I started on this topic and also get people to start paying attention to who is on the Board of Regents.

At their September 8, 2014 meeting, the Board of Regents voted, at the President's request, to rescind the $320,000 retention bonus.  I'm hoping this is the end of this particular series of posts, but I would note that the president's request did say that the bonus was inappropriate at this time.  Leaving open, perhaps, a more appropriate time.  But I want to give the president the benefit of the doubt.  As I've indicated in previous posts on this topic, he's already earning - with pensions from the Air Force and the Alaska Railroad - and his UA salary, in the ballpark of half a million a year.  Anyone could find something to do with $320,000, but at his income level, surely he can live well without it.

One of the regents voted against rescinding the bonus.  KFQD reported:
"[Cowell] says the university wants to attract high-quality leaders and the vote sets a bad precedent. Gamble says he appreciates the support of the board."
It seems that the rest of the regents thought giving the bonus sends an even worse message to students, faculty, and staff of the university system, not to mention potential donors, the legislature, and the general public.  And I'm not sure what bad precedent it sets.  That the Board listens to the president?  That it is sensitive to public opinion?  That it can correct a mistake?  Or that if you want to be president of the Alaska system, your salary won't be unlimited?

I emailed Regent Cowell right after the vote to ask some questions, but I never got a response.  He's also the only regent who doesn't list his phone number on the University pages for the regents.

So I took to the internet to try to figure out who he might be.  I'll warn you, I've been doing this long enough to know that figuring out someone's values and motives from scraps of bio information is a risky business.  At best it can let you speculate and raise questions to ask.

So let's look at Cowell's online shadow.

First, from the University of Alaska's bio of the regent.
Fuller A. Cowell of Anchorage was appointed in 2007 by Governor Palin. Regent Cowell was raised on a homestead in Fairbanks, attended Lathrop High School and studied biology at UAF. He completed his bachelors of business administration with an emphasis in marketing at National University, Sacramento, California graduating Summa Cum Laude. Cowell completed the Advanced Executive Program at the Kellogg Business School, Northwestern University, in Chicago, Illinois. In 1995, he was awarded the UAF Alumni Achievement Award for Community Achievement. The award was established to recognize outstanding UAF alumni.
If you just read this you might think Cowell was born in Alaska, but a McClatchy article from 1993  says he didn't come until he was seven. 
He has an extensive background in Alaska, moving to the state with his family when he was seven years old. 
That's no big deal.  I didn't get to Alaska until I was in my 30s. It's not so much how long you've been here, but a) whether your story matches what really happened, and b) whether your time here was spent getting to know the state, particularly the people.    

Probably much more relevant to his position as a regent is his educational background.  From the official bio we can infer that he studied at, but did not graduate from UAF.  Then, apparently he switched from biology to business.  National University is today a big online university. How good it is, I can't tell.  Students often go to online universities because it's easier to get in, class times are more flexible, and they want a degree.  While you can get a good education online (and a bad one in person), my guess is that most people going to online programs want the degree more than they want an education.  That's a generalization and there are lots of exceptions.  Does it apply to Cowell?  First, I don't know when he went and whether it was even online at the time.  But it's not a traditional university.  I'm guessing he went there because after dropping out (?) of UAF, he just wanted to get his diploma.  But I don't know.  We just gather clues and make hypotheses and try to test them.  His next educational experience seems to point in the same direction. 
"Cowell completed the Advanced Executive Program at the Kellogg Business School, Northwestern University, in Chicago, Illinois."
First, I'd mention that Northwestern is in Evanston, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.  But maybe they have a Chicago branch, or maybe he thought people wouldn't know where Evanston was, or maybe he's not a stickler for details.  It's probably not important, but just another clue that may or may not prove useful.

The Kellog School has one of the best business programs in the country.  An advanced executive program sounds pretty substantial.  But the Advanced Management Program - Intensive today is just under three weeks long and costs $36,000! (In comparison, a Harvard Business School Program For Leadership Development costs $45,000, but goes from December to June with two (12 day) on-campus and two off-campus modules.)

Again, this is a program for someone who wants to get things done quickly, who can't or doesn't want to spend the time for a longer, more traditional program.  I'm sure it was a stimulating experience, but there's only so much you can learn and retain in such a short program. 

Is this the best person that Sarah Palin could find to be on the board?  Of course, each appointee should be considered in the context of the other members.  If they all have more traditional educations, then he might add a useful perspective. 

Back to the official bio. 
Cowell serves as co-chair of the Providence Foundation Steering Committee, is on the board of St. Elias (long term acute care) Hospital and on the C.W. Snedden Chair of Journalism Selection Committee at UAF. He has served on the Journalism Advisory Board at UAA, the boards of Commonwealth North, Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, and the Anchorage Performing Arts Center and co-chaired the United Way of Anchorage campaign.
The Juneau Empire adds this:
He also co-chaired the Providence Foundation Steering Committee and was a founding member of the Alaska Cancer Research and Education Center.
The cancer research makes more sense if you look at Evangeline Atwood's Bent Pins to Chains:  Alaska and Its Newspapers:
"He returned to Alaska in 1993 as publisher of the Daily News but had to retire in 1999 to concentrate on a successful fight against leukemia."
Back to the official bio:
Cowell’s newspaper career took him from a newspaper carrier at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner to director of operations of the McClatchy Company and ultimately publisher of Alaska’s largest newspaper, the Anchorage Daily News. He spent ten years commercial fishing in Area E, which includes Prince William Sound and the Copper River Delta.

Cowell is married to the former Christmas Tripp of Fairbanks. Their daughter Alexis lives and works in Anchorage where she was born.
Much of his career has  been spent working for the McClatchy newspaper chain. Including time with some of its California papers.   He seems to have been in the management rather than the journalism side.  The McClatchy newspaper chain published information about Cowell when he took over as the publisher of the Anchorage Daily News, in 1993.

He's also, it seems, the owner of Cowell's Heliport Service in Big Lake.  The only date I could find on the site was a 7/2004 activation date; there's a July 2014 reference at 123 Jets. Or maybe he has a son with the same name.

OK, as I said, this is just a bunch of facts about his education and his work experience.  It doesn't tell us who he is, what he knows, what he values, and whether he's a good choice for the Board of Regents.

The University plays a critical role for Alaska.  If it does its job well, more Alaskans will get a good education and make important contributions to a sustainable Alaska, an Alaska that uses its resources wisely and has both  physical and social infrastructures that support a good life for this and future generations.

With a FY15 budget of over $1 billion, it's also an institution whose leaders should be closely followed and kept accountable.  But I dare say few Alaskans could name even one or two regents, let alone have any idea of what they do or how well.  (I did post abbreviated bios of the regents in an earlier post.)

I hope to explore this topic further in future posts. 

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