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After withdrawing from UW-System head job, University of Alaska union calls for president’s resignation



File photo — UW-Madison classroom

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — 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.

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