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UA president wants regents to pull back on $320,000 bonus

Alaska Dispatch News

FAIRBANKS -- The biggest back-to-school controversy at the University of Alaska this year has been the $320,000 bonus the UA Board of Regents offered to UA President Pat Gamble, a financial incentive that will be reconsidered at Gamble's request.

The regents are meeting in Anchorage Monday and are likely to vote on whether the bonus should be canceled. Gamble told the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce Tuesday he wants the regents to reconsider the plan, adding that the controversy has been bad for the institution and a distraction.

"I very much appreciate the board's support, but this issue will remain the elephant in the room every time we meet with faculty, staff, a donor or a legislator," Gamble told the chamber. "The decision ultimately is up to the board, but the timing isn't right and I think the board is very sensitive to that now."

Gamble said he wants to "put this issue to rest" and focus on the tough challenges facing UA. The regents approved the bonus 10-1 in June, saying Gamble is doing an exceptional job.

"Gamble is an accomplished, nationally known and exceptional leader who could readily take his skills elsewhere or simply decide to retire," Pat Jacobson, chairwoman of the board of regents, wrote in defending the bonus plan. The decision by the regents has become a public relations problem in the past couple of months, but with Gamble saying that a new approach is needed, it is unlikely to survive the next vote.

Gamble made the comments during a presentation on "Shaping Alaska's Future" at the Carlson Center. He said the controversy over the bonus, which the regents approved at the same time the university is cutting the budget throughout the system, is hurting the university. Gamble makes $320,000 a year. The regents told him that if he stays until May 2016, he will collect a $320,000 bonus.

"The board understood at the time the decision was made on the retention incentive that reasonable people might disagree with us, particularly since it comes during difficult budgetary times for the entire state," Jacobson wrote last month. "We see some of that disagreement playing out in newspaper editorials and blogs in recent weeks."

Abel Bult-Ito, a professor and faculty union leader, said the bonus was not warranted that the the regents are "out of touch with the realities faced by many UA students and with the academic mission of the university."