University of Alaska president withdraws as sole finalist in UW System president search

Per the WI State Journal, Jim Johnsen has withdrawn his candidacy to be UW System president, stating, “After deep reflection as to where I am called to lead a university system through these challenging times, it is clear to me and my family that it is in Alaska,” Johnsen said in a statement. “I appreciate the strong support from the search committee at Wisconsin, and for all those who supported my candidacy, but it’s clear they have important process issues to work out.” Click here for the article.

For reference, our previous article is included below.

By Lynn Binnie
Whitewater Banner staff

The Search Committee for a new UW System President has introduced a single candidate for the position, Jim Johnsen, 62, University of Alaska System President, since 2015. In that role he oversees three universities and 13 community campuses, serving more than 26,000 students. The UW System serves more than 170,000 students at 13 universities over 26 campuses. The new President will succeed Ray Cross, who announced his plans to retire, effective with the installation of a new president, last October. Cross assumed his position in 2014. It is very unusual for only one candidate to be recommended for such a position; however, the committee indicated that other prime candidates withdrew for fear that having their name announced publicly might impair their ability to lead their current organizations during the pandemic.

On Tuesday, June 9, Johnsen participated in a virtual forum that was open to interested parties related to all campuses. He also was interviewed in a closed session on the same day by the Board of Regents, which is expected to announce a decision in the near future.

Meanwhile, a petition to the Board of Regents, drafted by the UW-Madison chapter of the Association of American University Professors, has been signed by nearly 2000 students, staff, and alumni.

The petition states:

“The current search process for the next University of Wisconsin System President has failed.
The announcement of a single finalist on June 2 is the outcome of a flawed process that
excluded faculty, student, and staff representatives from the search committee. Furthermore,
the finalist’s record raises deep concerns about respect for educational quality and shared

As University of Wisconsin System faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community members,
we call on the Regents to withdraw this candidate and begin a new search process. The new
search committee must include faculty, staff, and student representatives in keeping with
precedent and in compliance with AAUP procedures.”

It appears that the reference to “the finalist’s record” may have been influenced by the report that there have been two faculty votes of “no confidence” regarding Mr. Johnsen within the University of Alaska System.

Signees of the petition related to UW-Whitewater include the followings:

Cristina Ballatori, Faculty
Victor Barger, Faculty
Jessica Bonjour, Faculty
Kathy Brady, Faculty
John Carlberg, Academic Staff
Bruce Cohen, Faculty
Eric Compas, Faculty
Kennedy Cutts, Student
Corey B. Davis, Faculty
Michael Dugan, Faculty
Denise Ehlen, Alumnus
Teresa Faris, Faculty
Ashley Flor, University Staff
John Frye, Faculty
Ruth Hansen, Faculty
James Hartwick, Faculty
Tracy Hawkins, Faculty
Lisa Huempfner, Faculty
Emily Igl, Student
Kasumi Kato, Academic Staff
Uma Kedharnath, Faculty
Derek Lam, Faculty
Brian Leeper, Academic Staff
Elena Levy-Navarro, Faculty
Courtney Luedke, Faculty
Joshua Mabie, Faculty
Nikki Mandell, Professor Emerita
Thor Manson, Student
Nathan Mcgovern, Faculty
Susan Messer, Faculty
Kimberly Nath, Faculty
Jack Nee, Alumnus
Matthew Onstad, Academic Staff
Christopher Ramaekers, Faculty
Andrea Romero, Faculty
Jared Rowe, Alumnus
Jessica Schwefel, Academic Staff
David Simmons, Faculty
Kyra Tomcheck, Alumnus
Sheila Turek, Faculty
Rhea Vichot, Faculty
Isabella Virrueta, Academic Staff
Holly Wilson, Faculty
Daniel Zamzow, Faculty

Comments added to the petition by persons with local affiliations included:

People on the ground know what’s best for UW System Students/Staff/Faculty etc. so let us in on the process. Kennedy Cutts, Student

You received multiple no-confidence votes from faculty at the University of Alaska, who charged that you ignored governance groups, muzzled chancellors, and misled the Regents. Please respond to these claims and explain why you are suited to lead the University of Wisconsin, which is proud of its tradition of shared governance. Ashley Flor, University Staff

Without procedural justice, there can be no faith in the process or the results. Ruth Hansen, Faculty

This sounds like the definition of a failed search, and a failed search process. James Hartwick, Faculty

No one would allow a search for a faculty position to be continued with one candidate. This is an unsuccessful search. Start again. Elena Levy-navarro, Faculty

Sadly, Wisconsin continues to be the canary in higher education nationwide. This doesn’t make the fight to preserve public higher education for the people any easier, but it does make it all the more important. Nikki Mandell, Professor Emeritus

In this time of crisis, we must have trust in administrative leadership – hiring an individual that is on the brink of losing their position for failing to earn that turst is dangerous and intentionally subversive. Please, wake up!! Susan Messer, Faculty

Jim Johnsen is a mistake. Ray Cross is a disaster. They both should get as far away from the UW System and the Wisconsin Idea ASAP. Jack Nee, Alumnus

As the Faculty Senate Chair at UWW since May 2018, I have been outspoken about the flawed search process revised by the Board of Regents to diminish and eliminate shared governance — especially the voice of the faculty — in choosing chancellors and the System president. Nearly 3,300 people who care about comprehensive regional education, local decision-making, and the Wisconsin Idea have already signed our petition to protect the UW from President Cross’s Blueprint — which the sole finalist in a search conducted in secrecy seems chosen to carry out without honoring these voices. Please join your fellow citizens and sign to protect the UW! David Simmons, Faculty

Thank you for taking action on this very important matter. One candidate should be considered a failed search. Sheila Turek, Faculty

This search is a joke and needs to be declared failed search and started again — with faculty and non-regent student input. Isabella Virrueta, Academic Staff

No search should end in only one final candidate and without the input of a sizeable chunk of the university community. The current conclusion is cleary (sic) a sham and the search should be redone with all stakeholders at the table. Russell J. Hansen

This search has been a misguided disaster from the beginning. Insufficient numbers of faculty, staff, and student representatives on the committee is a major problem and will lead to lack of buy to any new leader by the university community. Frank Hanson

We’ve got to be able to do better than this Dylan Jeninga

The attempt to forward only one candidate (especially one with so abysmal a record) for the President’s position is a mockery of the principles the UW stands for and a blatant slap in the face of Faculty, Staff, students, alumni, and the citizens of Wisconsin as a whole. The University is far too important to the state, financially, economically (yes, those are different things), scientifically, environmentally, and culturally, to allow the Regents to forcibly install an individual that has clearly built a career on being a professional “Axe Man”. The Regents’ candidate has done irreparable damage to the University of Alaska, and by putting him forward as their only choice, the Regents have clearly signaled their desire that he inflict the same type of damage on one of the greatest land-grant university systems in the nation, under the false pretense of fiscal conservatism. The Regents that have strong-armed this candidate through the selection process should be ashamed of themselves. It is deeply saddening that there is no process through which they can be forcibly stripped of their positions for the continuing damage they insist upon doing to this great University System. Anthony Peterson, Alumnus

This single candidate put forth is NOT welcome in Wisconsin…and definitely should NOT be even under consideration to head our vaunted UW System of universities! Lynne, Parent

For a story, ‘Failed Result of a flawed search process: UW faculty, students critical of president finalist,” in the Cap Times on June 4, 2020, click here.

For a story, As 1 finalist interviews to be UW System president, nearly 2,000 people call for new search,” in the Wisconsin State Journal, on June 9, 2020, click here.

For a story, “Turmoil at University of Alaska,” in the Anchorage Press, On October 8, 2019, click here. Included in the article is information about significant declines in enrollment and the closing of the education program after loss of its accreditation.

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