Saturday, March 6, 2010

Would Patrick Gamble Shrink, Shutter Community Campuses?

---- 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.]


Anonymous said...

I don't necessarily read Mr. Gambles comments as intending to shut community campuses as much as complete ignorance of distance education. It reflects more the discussion of distance ed that occurs in "executive" magazines rather than real knowledge of quality and effectiveness for distance ed.

Distance Ed (in which I am heavily involved) is not "cheap" - it's not so much less resources as a shifting of resources from brick and mortar to IT infrastructure and more important than that training and support for both teachers and students to use that infrastructure. I see far too many administrators who just want to throw money into technology but not look at whether that technology is actually accessible to students (who may have low bandwidth or need support in using it) or provide full time support for faculty not just in technology but in pedagogy and use of that technology.

The University of Alaska system is different from other states in that the community college system has been absorbed into the UA system. Community colleges have a different mission from 4 year colleges/universities. They are not just "feeder" campuses that prepare students for 4 year degrees at the "real" universities. We also provide course, certificates, and associates degrees to meet the needs of students that don't necessarily want 4 year degrees. In my experience working at both Universities and Community Colleges I also have a great respect for the way faculty at community colleges put teaching as their first priority and respond on a one-to-one basis to student needs. While the merging of the community college system into the UA system has provided the community colleges with more resources and tech infrastructure than they would otherwise have, it also causes problems, as when a curriculum committee dominated by the 4 year campus can't understand why you are offering the technical/practical courses that they don't consider "real" college course, or doesn't respect faculty whose primary mission is teaching rather than teaching/research.

I am more wary of his statement that "I provide the direction but leave it to others to implement it without micromanaging" - if he is ignorant of the issues in higher ed - he can't just give the mission orders and expect implementation. He needs input from all stakeholders - which is something those with the military/hierarchical background don't seem to "get".

Re: Chancellor Pugh - how someone who just had a "no confidence" vote from faculty within the last year can now be considered for President of the system - I just shake my head. It's not whether he was right or wrong in his views but the whole mishandling of the issues that is the problem.

Philip Munger said...

aNON @ 4:36,

I concur with pretty much everything you wrote. Having taught at both MSC(C) and ERCC, and at UAA, I notice things on a weekly basis that back up your statements. Both Mat-Su College and Eagle River Community College were started to fulfill local needs. Those needs have changed in both communities over the years. Both local campuses seem to have worked best when administrators with a strong background in certification programs and good local knowledge ran the places.

Frankly, our higher military officers scare me more than ever. Dwight Eisenhower proved to be a capable administrator of Columbia University. Mark Hamilton has certainly not done the same. It isn't just Mark, though. It is largely the corporate culture from which these Generals now emerge.

Anonymous said...

He's clearly Reptilian.

Kat said...

The corporate AND evangelical culture they emerge from. The evangelical side is even stronger. Bad news!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, those evil, corporate, rightwing, racist, imperialist war-mongering Christian crusaders! Did I leave out any of the usual Leftist cliches ? Thought I'd get them all out of the way for you so this thread can concentrate on intelligent discussion rather than the usual leftist insults.

funkalunatic said...

I'm sympathetic to the view that the sit-in-a-physical-classroom-and-listen-to-a-lecture style of education is outdated, but you can't learn to master a musical instrument or a complex hands-on tool or vehicle or a martial art or gardening or actually doing science or numerous other skills by being taught over video conference. IMO rural Alaska is exactly where the need is most for additional physical resources, because there's such a lack of them now, and because they can have a hugely positive impact on small communities. Is there a candidate talking about the potential for the UA system to be a long-term driver of social and value-added economic development throughout the state?

HarpboyAK said...

I'm more worried about Gamble's connection with the Air Force Academy and its well known problems with sexual harassment and evangelical Christian harassment of Jews, atheists, Catholics, and anyone that isn't a white male "Christian".

Religion at universities and military academies (other than church sponsored institutions) should be a private matter. This is especially true at government sponsored schools, whether UA or military academies.

I'd go for whichever candidate would pledge to cut administration personnel by 50% and put those savings into instruction. I said that when I was a student, and I'm still saying it now --- that's why this alumnus doesn't contribute during their fund drives. I'm not giving UA any of my money if it will go into the ridiculous number of overpaid administrators at all of the UA campuses.

Anonymous said...

I,too, wonder about the military "management style." Living in a military community, I notice a lot of my military friends get degrees in management. I asked why they weren't pursuing degrees in science and humanities, etc. and was told the military has a great management framework and they feel it will be useful outside the military. Well, I was fascinated by this response, not being military. Isn't the military a top-down organization? My workplace in the last three years is now run by a person who was previously military. Each section had its own meetings and there was a management meeting each week. We were made aware of the budget, revenue and projects planned. Now all section meetings are gone and the management meeting was curtailed a month ago. We used to be a creative organization and consensus at the section level provided the bounce for the top. Now we are stagnant. Why is our university system even considering military people? Because the Fairbanks campus is involved in military research. This is not an unusual situation, University of California has Lawrence Livermore. But, they don't hire military to run the system. I say let's go with the woman from Georgia, she has done some time in academia. I think she shows some interest in how people learn and seems to have been a good citizen scientist as is shown in her resume.