Coffee with the President

President Gamble addresses statewide staff

President Gamble held a “Coffee with the President” with all Statewide staff on July 16 with packed audiences in both Butrovich 109 and Bragaw Office Building 205.

He started off by thanking everyone for the warm welcome, and likened his first days at Statewide as a “fire hose and sponge,” with information coming in from a fire hose, which he attempts to soak up like a sponge.

President Gamble shared some thoughts on institutional values, the university’s mission, the strategic plan and the economic climate ahead. He also took time to answer questions. Here’s a brief overview of the event:
Institutional values
President Gamble described some of the values he considers important for UA.
•    Integrity first: If you make an honest mistake, admit it and move on. Second chances come much easier if you stick to an institution’s core values.
•    Character:  “Who you are is as important to me as what you do,” the president said.  Doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do.
•    Service:  To internal as well as external customers. To students.
•    Patience:  We’re all different.
•    Tolerance:  We’re all different.
•    Respect:  We’re all different.
•    Quest for excellence through continuous improvement.

Taking care of employees is essential, he added. A workforce that is well trained and well supported will, in turn, have greater confidence in its leadership. He said as president, it’s his responsibility to ensure employees have the training and resources to do the jobs asked of them.

Strategic Planning

The president also shared with Statewide staff an important project ahead: updating UA’s Strategic Plan.  A Strategic Plan is a high-level guide for where the institution needs to go and often suggests how it will get there. The economic picture of the nation and state are important considerations in our strategic plan, he said. The strategic plan must take into account these influences and anticipate changes that might result.

President Gamble predicted a period of economic instability that could last for two or three years. In addition to overall economic health of the state, there are national and international issues such as energy policy or environmental policy which could be “wild cards.” Gas and oil revenue, national debt and other pressing economic and political issues all affect the climate in which the university must plan and operate.  That said, it’s difficult to see into the future, even the near future, he added. Therefore UA’s risk assessment process, as reflected in our budgets, must remain conservative until the future becomes clearer.

President Gamble said at the heart of the strategic plan is UA’s mission. In business, creating value for customers is key. In education, the value is in learning excellence. That’s what students expect when they pay their tuition, and that’s what UA employees throughout the entire system must work to deliver, he said.

A self-described “numbers guy” and user of analytics, the president said the strategic plan update will need data from many Statewide departments. He told employees that he’ll be asking many questions to gather facts and data before he can craft a workable plan for the Board of Regents’ consideration.

Economic realities
In a discussion about the economy, President Gamble brought up issues many Statewide employees have heard before from former President Hamilton and other university leaders---during challenging economic times, the university must seek ways to not only reduce expenses, but to bring in additional revenue. This is especially important to demonstrate to the Legislature, he said. For example, the president lamented last year’s court ruling against the UA land grant and said he was willing to continue the effort to make the university land grant a revenue producer, like it is for other land grant universities in the Lower 48.

Gamble said he’ll work on sustainable budgeting for the university, which has to include estimates of “all-in” costs, including operating costs, of any new project or development. He noted that UA has several promising avenues of growth despite a slow economy, including health-care, health sciences and sponsored research.

Q & A
After addressing the Statewide audience for about an hour, President Gamble opened the floor to questions.

The first came from a student employee, regarding tuition increases. The student said she’s currently debt free, but worries that previously approved and proposed tuition increases in the future will be more than she can afford to pay with her current student job.

President Gamble replied that he wants to be able to say to students that the university explored every other opportunity first before increasing tuition, since asking students to pay 10 or 12 percent more every year is not sustainable. He said tuition should be a double-edged sword that cuts both ways and that he’d look for a day when he could actually lower tuition. That will depend on finding alternative sources of revenue as well as cost cutting.

A student employee and parent asked President Gamble about limited child-care resources on the UAF campus (a similar situation exists at the other MAUs as well; UAS has no on-campus childcare). President Gamble said he’d look into the situation in more detail but agrees adequate child care is an important financial and quality-of- life issue for students and employees as well.

Another employee asked the president if he’s noticed certain issues, trends or themes that have risen to the top within his short time on the job. President Gamble said yes, many themes have emerged, but one of particular concern to him is the amount of remedial courses incoming freshmen must take before qualifying for college-level courses, usually in math or English.  It’s one of the issues a new higher education task force, of which Gamble is a member, is addressing in the coming months ahead.

The next question was about competition and regionalism amongst the MAUs, and how that affects the UA System. President Gamble said competition needs to remain on the court or ice rink within the UA system of campuses. Teamwork is what will propel UA into the future successfully, not parochialism or counter-productive competition, he said.

The final question was about parking fees on campus. Gamble laughed and said that’s an area the president of the UA System should certainly stay out of---campus parking fees are up to the chancellor.

President Gamble closed the session by thanking everyone and suggesting they should ask even tougher questions at the next coffee. In the meantime, his door and e-mail account are open. The president’s new email address is ua.president@alaska.edu.

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