Hamilton announces chancellor candidates after getting chilly reception

UA President Mark Hamilton is used to getting a lot of attention when he visits UAA. But his reception was markedly colder than normal when he arrived at the Administration Building Feb. 23 to speak to the UAA Board of Advisors.

About a dozen neon-colored poster board signs greeted him that day with sayings like “Why are UAA students worth $6,000 less, Mr. Hamilton?” and “The university needs more teachers, not more administrators.”

Hamilton looked at them and sighed.

“It really is a terribly disturbing thing to have people claim for years and years and years that you favor one campus over the other,” he said. “That’s a hell of an indictment.”

But the meeting was not about the strife between campuses, it was about discussing the viable options for installing an interim chancellor following Chancellor Elaine Maimon’s departure to Governors State University in Illinois – two issues that Hamilton says are unrelated.

Hamilton wants to appoint the interim chancellor – a position that he said could last about two years – from within UAA, and he said the ideal nominee would be one who could conceivably remain in the position permanently.

“I would hope we had somebody in there that would at least entertain the notion of application and moving forward,” he said.

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Hamilton is considering the following people for interim chancellor:

 James Liszka, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences

 Thomas Case, dean of the College of Business and Public Policy

 Jan Gehler, dean of the Community and Technical College

 Fran Ulmer, director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research

 Renee Carter-Chapman, vice chancellor for community partnerships

 Ted Kassier, senior associate vice president of Academic Affairs

Hamilton denied The Northern Light access to another meeting he had with the faculty senate later that afternoon, saying the meeting was categorized an executive session because candidates’ personalities were to be discussed. As such, The Northern Light was unable to find out which candidates, if any, were eliminated from the list.

What Hamilton did say is that he did not intend to make a decision as a result of the meeting, but that the faculty senate would “discuss those individuals that they would bless” with him.

The soonest he thought he would reach a decision was a week from the meetings.

“Delay is not due diligence; delay is just delay,” he said at the board meeting. “I’ll know a lot more after I talk to the faculty senate. But I will make the selection. I’m not going to give that option to anyone.”

Despite that, opinions from the board were forthcoming. Several members voiced their concern about an internal interim chancellor performing the job and then being in an awkward position upon returning to the original job after having been in a position of power. One was Leo Bustad, who said the interim chancellor should come from outside the campus while the permanent chancellor should come from within.

There was also debate about whether the interim chancellor should be Alaskan or not. Although several members said they would prefer an Alaskan to take over because an Outsider might not be familiar with the politics in Anchorage, board member Rick Nerland disagreed.

“You hire the best person for the job,” he said. “The location doesn’t matter.”

Hamilton said local or not, there has been difficulty in finding candidates for the permanent position during previous searches and, because of that, there is a need for a long-term appointment, which could last until the fall of 2008, when he anticipates beginning the search for the permanent chancellor.

“I think we ought to go immediately to a nationwide search,” said board member Jack Roderick. “I don’t see any reason to slow this process down, and I think we need to get going with it. The timing is not wrong; people make up their minds in the spring as to whether they’re going to take a new job.”

Beginning a search in the spring is not viable, Hamilton said, because people aren’t around during the summer, and starting a search this fall would only allow for the replacement to be a “placeholder” rather than an interim chancellor with the authority to accomplish the tasks necessary for the university to function, such as preparing the budget.

Another issue up for debate was the credentials of a candidate. Holding a doctorate should not be a requirement, Hamilton said, citing a growing trend in higher-education institutions having business leaders or otherwise qualified people serve as president or chancellor. Not all of the candidates now being considered have doctorates.

“All things being equal, the faculty will always prefer a Ph.D. But this person’s primary responsibility is not as an academic, per se,” Hamilton said.

“I couldn’t disagree more,” Roderick said. “The administration is there to support faculty and students.”

Hamilton asked board members to individually submit comments about the candidates or send other names to him, as he also asked the faculty senate.

At the meeting, board members Eric Wohlforth and Bustad both voiced support for Liszka serving as interim chancellor.

“He is a uniquely qualified individual,” Wohlforth said.

After the board meeting, Hamilton told The Northern Light he would not comment about the circumstances of Maimon’s departure, including whether he asked her to step down or did not extend her contract, saying he doesn’t discuss personnel issues.

He did say that the signs hanging in protest were misguided and were based upon “unsophisticated comparisons.” Such comparisons include dividing the budget by the number of students to figure out the cost per student, he said, because different campuses cost different amounts to operate.

A candidate who would strongly advocate for UAA would not be disqualified from consideration, he said, but the person would have to have a working understanding of the relationship between campuses.

“You need to have advocacy for a campus, but it needs to be based on a fairly sophisticated understanding of the budget,” he said.

For example, he said it costs more per student to operate the Kodiak campus than the one in Anchorage, and UAF operates its own power plant, which keeps costs up at that campus.

“You put the money where the need is,” he said. “It’s always going to cost more there.”

He didn’t deny that UAF annually gets nearly half of the statewide operating budget, but he said UAA has gotten 56 percent of the capital budget since he has been president, and 72 percent of all new construction has been at this campus.

That’s because UAF had more facilities in place earlier, and they cost more to maintain and operate, he said. Incidentally, he said that is also the reason UAF is the dominant research campus in the system: The infrastructure is already in place. It’s not because of favoritism, he said.

“I don’t know what it is,” he said. “Does it make people feel good to feel like they are being slighted?”