He sure walked that back fast.
On April 2, Patrick Gamble, the University of Alaska’s relatively new president (2010) proposed a “code of conduct” for UA employees to be embedded in University regulation—even though similar language already exists in regents’ policy.
By April 5, columnist Dermot Cole was quoting extensively in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner from Gamble’s missive, including the ex-military general’s examples of the kind of “unacceptable behavior” apparently needing increased monitoring at UA: “unauthorized sleeping, reading, playing games, inappropriate use of the Internet and the telephone, insubordination, not showing up for work, hazing, horseplay, verbal or physical threats, lying, etc.”
We had no idea such unbridled naughtiness was going on among our obstreperous colleagues. Thank you, Mr. Gamble, for bringing this pressing matter to the university community’s attention, and the entire state.
(In recent weeks the News-Miner’s Cole has covered UA issues better than anyone, although his very best work has been on Alaska oil taxes.)
Journalists at Anchorage’s news website Alaska Dispatch subsequently lampooned Gamble with a list of their own satiric additions to his proposed regs. After all, when attending college themselves, “one thing we all agreed on was how cringe-inducing it was to spot our professors in the lounge playing a game of Twister.”
Channeling Stephen Colbert-like right-wing outrage, Dispatch writers also recommended expanding Gamble’s definition of “horseplay” to include “creating new employee bargaining units.”
Blowback from Gamble’s behavior code inside UA was also ferocious. Abel Bult-Ito, president of United Academics, the largest of UA’s three faculty unions, fired a letter into Gamble loaded with questions, including: “Are you intending to anger employees? Are there current employee issues that have triggered the drafting of these regulations? If so, what are these issues that cannot be addressed with the policy already in place?”
Gamble apparently recognized the danger of this firestorm. After all, employees resent being treated like children. Gamble reportedly told UA regents last week he likely will abandon his conduct code and pursue a more grassroots—and positive—set of principles and values that UA employees share, and also can model for students.
“That’s much better than the president’s initial top-down approach,” Bult-Ito said.
Gamble may be having trouble adjusting to managing a university after running the Alaska Railroad and military commands for decades. In March, for example, he didn’t exactly endear himself to UA workers on health care issues when his administration triggered this eye-popping headline: “UA employees face health care increases of 48 to 257 percent.”
Last year Gamble hired an Alaska Railroad pal, Donald Smith, an HR/labor relations guy who definitely did not join UA to sing “Kumbaya” with co-workers. Employees on UA’s Joint Health Care Committee say Smith remained intransigent while UA transferred more health care costs onto employees.
But why shouldn’t employees pay more of their own soaring health care costs? Some Alaskans might applaud Gamble and Smith for being fiscally “conservative,” yet management ignores options that could forestall sticking it to employees while also shrinking UA’s notoriously top-heavy administration.
Next year’s health care hikes could negate most UA employee pay increases or even dial back current wages. And that comes after Gamble’s own hefty 8.5 percent salary hike from regents in 2011. Gamble’s $320,000 annual salary is also sweetened by a free mansion and other perks. (Like a one-percenter, Gamble donated his latest raise to charity due to the perceived inequity to much lesser-paid employees, aka the 99 percent.)
Actually, Gamble should heed last year’s “Fisher Report” that he himself commissioned, which recommends deep cuts at UA Statewide, his own shop. A previous 2008 study, co-authored by Brian Rogers (now UA Fairbanks chancellor), advised slicing $15 million from Statewide.
Gamble’s own study recommends removing 60 to 80 of 200 positions from Statewide. We don’t advocate fellow workers losing their job, but bouncing a few top-earning bureaucrats could save money, or at least a comparatively measly $1.5 million, which employees recently recommended Gamble use—but he refused—to offset rising health care costs.
In exchange, we all promise to stop sleeping on the job.
• Andrews and Creed are professors at Chukchi College, the Kotzebue branch of University of Alaska Fairbanks.