---- commentary by John Creed
Patrick Gamble, a former Air Force general and current head of the Alaska Railroad, is one of three finalists for University of Alaska Statewide president. Gamble spoke on the UA Southeast campus in Juneau on Wednesday. He seemed ignorant of the role of UA's far-flung community campuses, including rural campus student needs. In fact, he implied that computer technology on the horizon can shrink and even replace Alaska's brick-and-mortar campuses, "which are so expensive."
"And instead of trying to figure out where to put a campus," Gamble said, "which are so expensive as a fixed plant to operate, you know, we can send the learning out, connect it to a professor, ah, but not have to pay all that overhead, and I think the community college side, the community campus idea, that framework may change over time. . . Reality sets in and say, oh, can you fund the physical plant and the fixed costs that it takes to allow that growth because student fees aren't going to pay for all that."
We've been through this campus-closure and resource allocation fight before, which Gamble seems ready to pick again, but this time as UA Statewide president should UA's regents choose him. In the 1990s, state Rep. and then Sen. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, also tried to shutter Alaska's community campuses, from Mat-Su to Kodiak to Sitka, Ketchikan and beyond throughout Alaska. Bunde, a retired UAA professor, envisioned universities operating only in the state's three large urban areas.
In other words, in those days Bunde's mantra was that higher education should be an exclusively urban pursuit. If you want higher education, Bunde would say, "then come to the cities to get it." To which some rural Alaskans would respond, "If you want to enjoy the fruits of Alaska's vast natural resource wealth that runs state government, then come live in rural Alaska to get it."
Gamble's version of Bunde's battle cry along the rural/urban divide? We'll ship higher ed out to you by computer:
Steve Aufrecht shot this video.
He is a UAA professor emeritus of public policy who lives in Anchorage but is covering the legislative session in Juneau on his blog, called What Do I Know?
Last Sunday the UA Board of Regents released the names of three finalists they picked out of a field of 32 applicants, whose names UA Statewide will release soon if it has not already, as required by state law.
[John Creed is a humanities/journalism professor at Chukchi College, a Kotzebue branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.]