University of Alaska president is only finalist for University of Wisconsin - Must Read Alaska
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University of Alaska president is only finalist for University of Wisconsin

University of Alaska’s President Jim Johnsen is the only finalist for the opening of president at the University of Wisconsin System, the University of Wisconsin announced today.

Johnsen will be interviewed on June 9 by the UW search committee, which will make a recommendation to the system’s board of regents.

“The candidate pool was very deep and strong, and included a number of impressive and qualified candidates. The Search Committee unanimously agreed to advance Dr. Jim Johnsen, President of the University of Alaska system, as a finalist for this critical position.  As noted, when the search began, we are seeking an exceptional leader who will leverage our strengths and help us navigate the challenges facing institutions of higher education today and into the future,” said Regent Vice President Michael Grebe, who chairs the university system’s presidential search committee.

Johnsen has been president of the University of Alaska System since 2015 and has a background in higher education, including with the University of Minnesota from 1992 to 1996.

He served in various roles in the Alaska System between 1996 and 2008, including vice president for administration and chief of staff.

He was chair of the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education, vice chair of the Alaska Student Loan Corporation, vice chair of the University of Alaska Foundation, and commissioner on the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education. He was founding chair of the Alaska State Committee on Research and an executive at Alaska Communications, overseeing recruitment, compliance, and labor relations.

In his current role as president, he oversees a system of three universities and 13 community campuses, with an annual operating budget of around $900 million, 7,000 faculty and staff, and nearly 30,000 students.

He has also been facing a shortfall of funding and a declining enrollment, as the university system is having to respond to low oil prices and an economic decline in Alaska.

The Associated Press blames the University of Alaska woes on Republican legislators:

“If he’s hired as the Wisconsin system’s leader, Johnsen would inherit a much larger university system — the system enrolled about 167,000 students as of last fall — that’s struggling with a host of issues, including declining enrollment, dwindling state aid, animosity from Republican legislators and deep questions about how the pandemic will reshape operations,” the AP wrote.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • UA presidents typically stay only 5 years. Long enough to get a huge retirement package from Alaska. He put a few million into his bank account, free living expenses, etc. No commitment to UA or Alaska. Another user and sponger.

    • Sarcasm is unnecessary and unfounded. Tenure of CEOs is typically 3-5 years. Nothing unusual here. Housing and other perks are taxed accordingly, so remark about free living expenses is wrong. In fact, the housing situation diminishes wealth because there is no home equity growth. Fact is, whoever was president of UA was in for a tough road because the seeds of the current situation were sown decades ago when the state threw money around like it was water. Nineteen campuses for a state with a population of 750,000 is ridiculous. But every politician wanted a campus so they got one. A policy of open enrollment admits the unqualified and that means lots of remedial training, low scholastic performance and academic standards that meet expectations. And that ensures high achieving students from the L48 avoid UA. So, now we have a president dealing with declining enrollment, huge fixed costs, reduced state subsidy while faculty, students and staff demand the status quo of the golden years. It is unsustainable! Meanwhile the Board of Regents seeks a soft landing that is impossible.

      • No sarcasm intended or applied. Just facts. His salary over five years is beyond the bounds. Presidents Bunnell and Patty helped their students acquire property and gave personal loans to them. The current prez and those prior are selfish and looking out for their own interests. And your term CEO is misplaced. It’s reserved for executives in the business realm for real executives who are responsible for running profitable business enterprises and keeping shareholders happy. A state university president goes to the legislature and begs for money that is derived from government taxes. BIG difference. University presidents of public institutions are overpaid babysitters, who complain when the babies start crying. And here at UA, there are many babies.

        • President and CEO are synonymous terms. Suggesting they have different responsibilities is delving into minutia. Johnsen’s salary, and those of prior presidents, are determined by the market for university presidents. To your point, they are well compensated, but it is a systemic matter. Should the BOR significantly reduce the president’s compensation and see what the applicant pool looks like? Or, said another way, what high performing executive would accept a salary significantly lower than his peers?

          If, as you say, prior UA presidents “helped their students acquire property and gave personal loans to them” then that behavior is fundamentally unethical and clearly a violation of BOR policy. Certainly not behavior to emulate. With regard to your comment that the UA is filled with crying babies, we will find the same emotional behavior from employees in any organization undergoing significant change and reduction of positions.

          • Donald, are you a paid apologist for the UA system?
            There is no secret that the UA is overwhelmingly top-heavy with administration and bloated with overpaid persons who continue to create a massive bureaucracy in our state university. For what? To drain resources from the state coffers just to make it look like the UA plays with the academic big boys? Give me a f##king break. The UA is full of liberal sissies, who fly the flag of climate change……the biggest hoax of the 20th and 21st centuries. UA is a place for left extremists who plan for their retirement so they can build large homes and play in Florida and Hawaii. This university has become a breeding ground for Democrats and Lefties with two or three “agendas” that are geared to appease multi-culturists and progressives. The UA’s foundational and bedrock curriculums have been dismantled decades ago. Now, UA presidents are little more than beggars who travel to Juneau and lobby for money. UA system Chancellor’s are little more than cheerleaders who wear the uniforms and wave pompoms, while jacking up the tuitions on regular students. Any Alaskans who want a real, unbiased, education……where they teach independent thinking strategies and reasoning skills…….won’t go to UA. Jim Johnsen is no exception to the long list of users and abusers who hide on the West Ridge. His intent to depart is clearly registered to all. He is no hero to higher learning or to impart a goal to urge Alaskan youth to become educated and fend for themselves.

        • If you read carefully what I wrote I agree with your reply.

          • I went back and re-read. These are frustrating times, and I apologize for my haste.
            Thanks, Don

    • Tenure of CEOs is typically 3-5 years. Nothing unusual here. Housing and other perks are taxed accordingly, so the remark about free living expenses is wrong. In fact, the housing situation diminishes wealth because there is no home equity growth. Fact is, whoever was president of UA was in for a tough road because the seeds of the current situation were sown decades ago when the state threw money around like it was water. Nineteen campuses for a state with a population of 750,000 is ridiculous. Every politician wanted a hometown campus so they got one. A policy of open enrollment admits the unqualified and that means lots of remedial training, low scholastic performance and academic standards that meet expectations. And that atmosphere ensures high achieving students from the L48 shun UA. So, now we have a president dealing with declining enrollment, huge fixed costs, reduced state subsidy and oil revenue. Meanwhile faculty, students and staff demand the status quo of the halcyon years. It is unsustainable! While that is going on Board of Regents seek a soft landing that is impossible given the external forces at play. The UA system requires significant restructure to survive.

  • Gee, I wonder if they are aware that he fell asleep at the wheel while he lost our teaching accreditation here in Alaska?

  • If he is smart he will be able to use the various failures he was involved in at UA for the benefit of UW.

  • Does that other school have 38k+ faculty? Just wondering if the ratio is similar to ours.

    • The fact that UAA is top heavy is exactly on his shoulders.

  • What a riot. He has done so much for the UAA system. Chaos and calamity will surely follow.

  • Evidently this public site must have a flaw in it’s ability to accept those comments that might be in opposition to the position other individuals may have expressed. Hmm, must be a flaw in the program.

    • No. A flaw in your thinking, Ross. Quit watching so much CNN. You don’t seem to have a tolerant, independent mind.

  • Hope they have money. He blows through it with poor return.

  • I would call it the Peter Principle, but he has already exemplified the Peter Principle. Apparently the same applies to the UW search committee.

  • I can’t think of a better candidate! No Alaskan should say anything bad about Johnsen, he has done a marvelous, wonderful, amazing job that nobody else could ever do.

  • I always thought Wisconsin was a good school. They sure must be going downhill to even consider Johnson. He’s done all he can to screw up the UA system and has never taken any responsibility for his failures. No great loss to UA.

    • I reckon he is liberal enough to fit in with Madison, Wisconsin.

      He should have been fired for the loss of program accreditation here in AK. Heads STILL have not rolled from that galactic clusterF!

      I say good riddance. Poor Wisconsin.

      Will his signature be struck from the recall petition?

  • Good, now let’s replace him with a business administrator for once and let the educators teach.

  • “..annual operating budget of around $900 million, 7,000 faculty and staff, and nearly 30,000 students.”
    Anyone else see anything wrong with this?

    • Ya-uh with that many staff you know they’re going to be underpaid. No money.

  • Yeah, let him go down there and bust the budget, useless article that he is.

    • Jim Johnsen, nor any prior UA president, is not guilty of busting the budget. The budget has always been a dance between the university and legislators wanting university stuff for their districts. That sums up the problem with the UA. It is funded on a political basis and not an academic or student population basis.

      • Don, you sound like one of the many UA administrators who have been isolating at home for a decade or two. Don’t you have any meaningful or uplifting commentary for the “students” (stakeholders) of the institution? Why do you quasi-academic story-tellers have to constantly defend your positions? Aren’t you happy with your high income jobs, and your low accountability performance ratings? You don’t even sound that well educated. Go take a class in diesel engine repair and try out a real job.

  • When the Captain of the ship jumps….the rest of the staff needs to find a life boat!

    • Not quite, Phil. When the state ship sinks, the captain grabs the only lifeboat. The rats jump, hoping the captain can’t paddle away too fast. The last captain to go down with the ship was on the Titanic. Now, the president captains are so sissified and so selfish, that escaping a sinking ship is written into their contracts

  • He’s a no go. Too Liberal for Madison. How does UAF get stuck with these pansy-a$$ Lefties?

    • Obviously, the word is out and precedes his resume`. UA presidents and their minion lapdogs are dead-enders in the academic world. Stay put. Keep your mouth shut. Pray for oil prices to rebound to $100 and pray we get a Democrat governor and legislature. Then, get the hell out of this miserably cold part of the planet and laugh all the way to his new retirement home in AZ. Yep, the word has been out………for decades.

  • I enjoy a good root cause analysis: the Board of Regents has been asleep. All have “other lives” and many have phoned it in, enough that the University has lost relevance to Alaska in spite of the hard work of some faculty to prepare willing students for productive lives. Noteable exceptions exist in the engineering and other real life work disciplines. Likewise just a few of the research disciplines. But the rest of the faculty and many staff have descended into a world of self-interest demanding always more and seeking to remake the institutions in their own image. Note that a quick way to become a former administrator is to recommend closure of a cash funnel community campus whose poor fiscal decisions are underwritten by local legislators. Time for a new Board. And if the legislature undermines reform as is their habit, Alaska continues to throw good money after bad and Western Governors University wins.

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