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

Coast Guard aircrews medevaced two people from Dry Bay Airstrip, approximately 30 miles Southeast of Yakutat, Alaska, after their plane crashed, May 25, 2022. (Courtesy photo / Coast Guard District 17)
Three medevaced after plane crash near Yakutat

All four aboard were injured, three critically so.

The author’s appreciation for steelhead has turned into something like reverence considering what’s happening to populations in the Lower 48 and Canada. (Jeff Lund / For the Juneau Empire)
I Went to the Woods: Silent steel

“You forget most of what ends up in the freezer, but those steelhead, they stick with you.”

Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, seen here in this June 16, 2021, file photo, announced Wednesday he will not seek relelection in the Alaska State Senate, where he has served since 2013. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file)
Senate president says he won’t run again

“Honor and a privilege.”

Hoonah’s Alaska Youth Stewards helped make improvements to Moby and water the plants in summer 2021. (Courtesy Photo / Jillian Schuyler)
Resilient Peoples & Place: Moby the Mobile Greenhouse cultivates community

It presents opportunities to grow food knowledge and skills.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Thursday, May 26, 2022

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

Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Alaska Supreme Court orders use of interim map for elections

The decision came just over a week before the June 1 filing deadline for the August primaries.

A male red-winged blackbird displays his showy red patches and calls to a rival male (Gina Vose photo)
On the Trails: Birds and beetles at Kingfisher Pond

Something is almost always happening at Kingfisher Pond.

Most Read