JUNEAU — University of Alaska president Pat Gamble said he loves coming to work every day. But at age 69 — and with the university system in a position he feels comfortable with — Gamble said it’s time to retire.
UA announced Dec. 15 that Gamble will retire June 1, which will mark five years in the position.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Gamble said his proudest point as president has been bringing the leaders of the three main universities together to work on issues across the system rather than having the campuses compete for resources. That means looking for areas where the schools can be more efficient and integrating their budgets.
“Nothing that we’re doing now that is successful, in my opinion, would be either possible or anywhere near as successful if it were not for the leadership that the chancellors of the three universities are providing to their schools, along with their provosts,” Gamble said.
“It’s about what’s best for our university system and our students,” he said later.
When he first took the job of president, the universities were going through a growth phase and had become more independent, meaning there was some overlap in what they were doing, he said.
One of Gamble’s biggest challenges has been prolonging the collaborative relationship that the board of regents and Legislature demand and the public expects, he said.
Gamble, a retired Air Force general, came to the university from the Alaska Railroad Corp., where he served as president and CEO.
As UA president, Gamble launched an outreach effort to better understand what the university system was doing well and what it wasn’t. Issues that emerged on the academic side included low graduation rates and the length of time it was taking students to earn degrees, he said.
The board of regents and the state board that oversees K-12 public education began meeting together two years ago to begin looking at ways to better prepare students for post-secondary success. Gamble said the joint effort was unprecedented.
The UA system says the completion rate for bachelor’s degrees across the system was at an all-time high of nearly 32 percent during the past fiscal year that ended June 30. The system says it awarded its highest number of degrees and certificates ever during the last fiscal year.
In June, the board of regents approved a contract extension for Gamble that included a $320,000 bonus if he stayed on through May 2016. An online petition protested the bonus, which was rescinded after Gamble asked the board to reconsider it. He cited budget concerns and enrollment challenges and said the issue had become a negative distraction.
He is set to leave when his current contract expires.
Gamble plans to guide the university system through what is expected to be a tough budget year, with the state facing potential deficits of more than $3 billion for both this fiscal year and next.
Gamble said the goal is for UA to get through the rough stretch without losing the gains made in recent years.
His recommends that the board consider what UA needs for the next five years as it searches for his replacement. As for Gamble, he says, “I’m retiring, retiring,” though he added he would be open to serve on a board or for consulting.
Board of regents Chair Jo Heckman, in a release, called Gamble the right leader during a period of change in higher education.
“While it is hard to see him leave, the work he’s done makes the University of Alaska highly attractive to potential candidates for the position,” Heckman said.