UA President Jim Johnsen withdraws from UW job, plans to stay with Alaska

UA President Jim Johnsen speaks to the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce on Monday, Dec. 2, 2019. (Photo by Matt Buxton/TMS)

Call off the search for a replacement, University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen announced today that he’s withdrawn from consideration for the top job at the University of Wisconsin system and plans to stick it out in Alaska.

The decision, as reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, was made just hours before the UW search committee planned to meet to consider a formal recommendation for Johnsen’s hiring to the full UW Board of Regents. Johnsen was the sole finalist after other candidates withdrew from consideration, but the regent heading the process said Johnsen was the leading candidate.

Johnsen kept his reasoning for the decision limited in a statement to the paper.

“After deep reflection as to where I am called to lead a university system through these challenging times, it is clear to me and my family that it is in Alaska,” Johnsen said. “I appreciate the strong support from the search committee at Wisconsin, and for all those who supported my candidacy, but it’s clear they have important process issues to work out.”

Johnsen and the University of Wisconsin’s search process both faced sharp opposition from the University of Wisconsin community.

Several questioned Johnsen’s track record in Alaska where he’s faced several “no confidence” votes from faculty as he’s tried to guide the university through financial woes. According to the Journal Sentinel, many walked away from Johnsen’s sole public question-and-answer period this week feeling his answers and vision were “unimpressed” and “underwhelmed.”

The way the University of Wisconsin conducted is search process didn’t do it or Johnsen any favors, either. Several had criticized the process for not including students or faculty in the search, and several called for the search to be rebooted when the search only produced a single finalist.

Like the University of Alaska, the University of Wisconsin similarly faces a difficult financial situation and is considering major, largely unpopular upheavals of how the system is structured and operated. Like Alaska, that plan, according to Wisconsin Public Radio, “proposes eliminating duplicate major degree programs at most state universities, centralizing administrative functions and creating a unified model for online education.”

The University of Alaska is still in the midst of financial challenges. The Board of Regents voted last week to eliminate more than 30 degree programs as well as kick off a project to consider options for folding the University of Alaska Southeast into the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

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