Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Alaska Railroad chief Pat Gamble to head University of Alaska

FAIRBANKS - Pat Gamble will be the next president of the state university system.

Gamble is president of the Alaska Railroad Corp. and a retired Air Force general. He has also developed various ties to academia and emerged Tuesday from the university Board of Regents' short list as the coming replacement for outgoing president Mark Hamilton.

Gamble said this interaction with university leaders during the regents' review reminded him that Alaska and its university are both relatively young and thus have a chance to continue maturing together.

"Great states have great universities at their hearts," he said. "We need to continue to make this a great university, and we'll get a great state out of it."

Gamble will transition into the role and replace Hamilton early this summer, the regents said.

The other two finalists for president were Lisa Rossbacher, president of Southern Polytechnic State University in Georgia and a professor of geology, and John Pugh, chancellor of the University of Alaska Southeast and former state health commissioner. All three toured the UA system's three big campuses earlier this winter. Hamilton announced last summer he'd retire when a replacement was found and planned to stay in Alaska.

Gamble holds a masters of business administration from Auburn and a bachelors in mathematics from Texas A&M. He has been president and CEO of the state railroad since 2001, and under his tenure the railroad has expanded significantly despite occasional run-ins with communities.

Prior to his turn at the railroad Gamble commanded the Pacific Air Forces, overseeing a $1.4 billion budget and 14 military installations, according to the university. He was also commander of the Air Force's Alaskan Command from 1996 to 1998 and was commandant of the Air Force Academy, directing training, policy, classroom and food and housing policies, the system said.

"We believe Pat has the leadership skills, the management expertise and familiarity with the state of Alaska that will serve UA well," Cynthia Henry, the board's chairwoman, said in a statement. "We are impressed by his support for the University of Alaska and his interest in addressing the issues we face. We're very pleased he's accepted our offer."

Gamble served as a fighter pilot, including a tour in Vietnam, according to the railroad. He told the Daily News-Miner that as he approached retirement - he left the Air Force as a four star general - he developed a growing desire to understand the business world. He developed it through his role with the railroad and said he's also served as an advisor and instructor of aviation at the Anchorage campus. He said the "calling to get involved" remained strong when the chance emerged last year to help lead the university system.

"I'm excited but humbled by this opportunity," Gamble added through a statement. "I have a high degree of respect for the University of Alaska, its mission and its service to students. This is a very important appointment, but it's not one I'll do alone. I look forward to working with a variety of people in the months and years ahead, including our students, faculty, staff, community members, elected officials, alumni, donors, business partners and others with an interest in the success of this institution."

Gov. Sean Parnell praised the selection, calling Gamble an "exceptional leader."

"Under Pat's leadership, the university will continue to be a leader in academic excellence," Parnell said in a statement. "I look forward to working with Pat to advance the mission of the University."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski also sent a message congratulating Gamble.

"From his service in the Air Force, rising to the rank of general, to serving as the chief executive officer of the Alaska Railroad, Pat has a proven track record of leadership from which our university system will greatly benefit," she said.

Gamble and his wife Ailese live in Anchorage and have a son, Jeff, according to his bio with the railroad corporation.

Source: By Christoper Eshleman. Originally published on March 17, 2010