CEO bonus does not play well in a time of deficits

After faculty, staff and students at the University of Alaska rose up in outrage over news that the university president had been awarded a $320,000 retention bonus in his new contract, the UA Board of Regents had to do an about-face. In a special meeting, the board rescinded the bonus three months after offering it.

The bonus would have been equal to one year’s pay for President Patrick K. Gamble, who already is the highest-paid public employee in the state. A retired U.S. Air Force four-star general, Gamble came to the university in 2010 after nine years serving as president and CEO of the Alaska Railroad Corp. His four years at the helm of the university have seen annual budget cuts, a current deficit of $26 million, layoffs of dozens of faculty and staff, hiring freezes that have impaired everyday operations, cuts in services to students, increased student fees, enrollment declines, and talk about a tuition increase of 4 percent next year.

In response to a request for information from the United Academics-AAUP/AFT, the regents explained that Gamble’s salary is 25-28 percent under market for system presidents at comparable universities.

“I would like to point out that over one-third of United Academics faculty members are under market as well,” wrote United Academics President Abel Bult-Ito in response. “But the vast majority of them did not receive an ‘incentive … to stay on board,’ although most of them exceed their expectations of job performance and all of them contribute directly to the mission of the university.”

On behalf of the 950 faculty represented by United Academics, Bult-Ito critiqued Gamble’s performance as an administrator, communicator and leader. A shortened form of the rebuttal ran in the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer on Aug. 31. (Read it at http://bit.ly/X2qhA8.)

The pressure to rescind the bonus was more than a war of words. Activists from other labor groups, including the United Academics Adjuncts, the Alaska Public Employees Association/AFT and the Alaska AFL-CIO, raised community awareness. An online petition quickly garnered 1,478 signatures, reports Kate Quick, a member of the University of Alaska Federation of Teachers who teaches developmental English at UA Fairbanks.  

Alumni, donors and community members wrote articles and letters to the editor, but the main reason for the regents’ about-face, says Sine Anahita, associate professor of sociology at UA Fairbanks, was “because ordinary grass-roots people and rank-and-file members visibly organized in solidarity. Students, faculty, staff, retirees and community members joined in weekly street demonstrations at the entrance to the campus in Fairbanks. We used social media extensively to generate understanding and outrage. We embarrassed the regents into backtracking.”

AFT On Campus, Fall 2014
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