In this November 2019 photo, Jim Johnsen, president of the University of Alaska, is questioned by Kieran Poulson-Edwards, a writer for the Whalesong, the student newspaper at the University of Alaska Southeast, after Johnsen’s speech at the Juneau Chamber of Commerce at the Moose Lodge. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

In this November 2019 photo, Jim Johnsen, president of the University of Alaska, is questioned by Kieran Poulson-Edwards, a writer for the Whalesong, the student newspaper at the University of Alaska Southeast, after Johnsen’s speech at the Juneau Chamber of Commerce at the Moose Lodge. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

University of Alaska union calls for president’s resignation

Petition says he has “failed in all areas that matter to the academic mission.”

ANCHORAGE — The University of Alaska faculty union has called for the immediate resignation of the system’s president.

The executive board of United Academics union unanimously approved a public petition Friday asking university President Jim Johnsen to step down.

Johnsen, who became president in 2015, oversees the university system’s three universities and 13 community campuses with about 30,000 students.

Johnsen has “failed in all areas that matter to the academic mission” and has invested efforts to advance his career rather than lead the university, the union’s petition said.

Johnsen did not provide examples of his efforts to improve diversity in the system during recent interviews with the University of Wisconsin, the union said.

Johnsen was the lone finalist for the University of Wisconsin System’s president job. But he withdrew his name from consideration Friday in the face of mounting criticism from faculty, staff and students.

The announcement that Johnsen was the only finalist drew immediate criticism from Wisconsin faculty, staff and students who complained they had no representatives on the university’s search committee.

They also noted Johnsen received two no-confidence votes from Alaska faculty in 2017 and 2019 over proposals to consolidate programs and combine the three-university Alaska system into a single accredited institution to absorb budget cuts.

The Alaska faculty petition also cited deteriorating state funding and student enrollment and “the short-sighted elimination of critical and healthy academic programs” affecting many parties.

The University of Alaska Board of Regents voted to cut or reduce more than 40 academic programs June 5.

The university predicts a budget gap by fiscal year 2022 between $11.3 million and $36.3 million. The academic program and administrative cuts approved by the regents are part of an effort to address the financial situation, Johnsen said.

Faculty union President Abel Bult-Ito said 226 of about 1,050 faculty members the union represents signed the petition by Monday afternoon.

“He is the leader of the university. He should take responsibility for what is happening at the university,” said Bult-Ito, a professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

In his interview with the Wisconsin search committee, Johnsen was asked about commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion at universities. He was criticized as being tone deaf or inappropriate in his responses, which included references to being raised for a time by an African American family and working as the only white executive in an Alaska Native Corporation.

Johnsen also said Alaskans “expect a handout each year from our permanent fund,” referring to the state’s annual payment to residents drawn from oil revenue.

University spokeswoman Roberta Graham issued a statement saying Johnsen respects and supports the faculty’s rights to express their viewpoints, but he “remains dedicated to inclusiveness and transparency.”

Johnsen will continue to focus on the university’s mission and the regents’ goals of economic and workforce development, research, cost effectiveness and student success, Graham said.

• This is an Assocaited Press report.

More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of Feb. 26

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

State senators meet with members of the media at the Alaska State Capitol to discuss education legislation after a press conference by Gov. Mike Dunleavy on the topic on Tuesday. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Dunleavy threatens veto of education bill if more of his priorities aren’t added

It is not certain there would be the 40 votes necessary to override a veto by the governor

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire
Nanibaa’ Frommherz, a student at Thunder Mountain High School, testifies about a proposal to help the Juneau School District with its financial crisis during a Juneau Assembly Committee of the Whole meeting Monday night at City Hall. The meeting was moved from the Assembly Chambers to a conference room toward the end due to technical errors that disrupted the live online feed.
Little public reaction to city’s bailout of school district this year, but big questions beyond loom

Only two people testify Monday about proposed $4.1M loan and taking over $3.9 in “shared costs.”

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Mauka Grunenberg looks at live oysters for sale on Aug. 29, 2022, at Sagaya City Market in Anchorage. The oysters came from a farm in Juneau. Oysters, blue mussels and sugar, bull and ribbon kelp are the main products of an Alaska mariculture industry that has expanded greatly in recent years. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska’s mariculture industry expands, with big production increases in recent years, report says

While Alaska’s mariculture industry is small by global standards, production of farmed… Continue reading

U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola (center) walks with Alaska Rep. Will Stapp, R-Fairbanks, and Alaska Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, into the Alaska House of Representatives chambers ahead of her annual address to the Alaska Legislature on Monday. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Peltola celebrates federal intervention in Albertsons, Kroger merger in legislative address

Congresswoman says wins for Alaska’s fisheries and state’s economy occurring through collaboration.

Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, speaks in support of Senate concurrence on a version of an education bill passed by the Alaska House last week during a Senate floor discussion on Monday. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Senate concurs on House education bill, Dunleavy is skeptical

Dunleavy schedules press conference Tuesday afternoon in Anchorage to discuss the legislation.

A photo by Ben Huff being exhibited as part of his presentation at 6:30 p.m. at the Alaska State Museum. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska State Museum)
Here’s what’s happening for First Friday in March

Both the state and city museums are celebrating 20 years of artistic… Continue reading

Goose Creek Correctional Center is seen in fall. (Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Corrections)
Alaska prison failed to provide adequate dental care to inmates, state investigator finds

Goose Creek Correctional Center has gone years without a hygienist, forcing patients to wait

Most Read