In just a few short weeks, Jim Johnsen, the president of University of Alaska, has gone from being the leader of Alaska’s University System on his way to being president of the University of Wisconsin System, to metaphorically being forced to his knees to apologize for his white privilege.
The faculty of UA is now in the hunt for his head.
Johnsen issued an apology for comments he had made during his University of Wisconsin interview regarding the Permanent Fund dividend in Alaska, and because he answered a question about diversity wrong.
The question posed by a member of the interview committee in Wisconsin, was about his experience with diversity.
It was a trap that Johnsen walked right into.
“My experience at Doyon in particular, the Alaska Native Corporation, I was a minority working in that company. Alaska Native people owned the company. All the people who worked on my team were Alaska Native, as was the board. And we did a lot of great work together focusing on increasing employment opportunities through education for Alaska Native people,” Johnsen had answered.
Wrong answer, evidently.
The University of Wisconsin faculty saw a privileged white man talking down to minorities. Back at home, the University of Alaska faculty union has called for Johnsen’s removal for the crime of being IWW — insensitive while white.
On Tuesday, after Johnsen had already withdrawn from consideration for Wisconsin, he he was busy with the mea culpa tour, issuing an apology to the university community in Alaska for not acknowledging his white privilege:
“To have not first acknowledged my own white privilege in response to questions last week about my understanding of and approach to diversity and inclusion was a mistake. For that, I am sorry. We must do better and I must do better. I seek to be a part of the solution. Diversity, inclusiveness and freedom from bigotry and hatred are part of my core values but these must be our common values.
“My experiences from childhood forward instilled in me the belief that every human being deserves respect regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity, and I know that I still have a lot to learn. Most importantly, I know that inclusion is necessary for diversity to exist, and I pledge to address my own biases, be more inclusive, respectful and to stand in the face of racism and injustice.
“In my five years as president of the University of Alaska System, I have worked to create a culture of respect, and I vow to continue to learn, listen and work toward a university that is anti-racist, to actively participate in creating policies and practices that enhance equity, and to come together as a university community to address the injustice and discrimination that exist in our society.”
The current cultural climate in America is rough for non-minority business leaders, but academia is an especially harsh task master.
Johnsen will discover, if he has not already, that there is really nothing he can do to make up for his white privilege but resign, because once the mob smells blood, it will not stop until it has its pound of flesh.