Regents select Pat Pitney as interim president of the University of Alaska

Pat Pitney speaks at a news conference early in Gov. Bill Walker's term.

Pat Pitney will be heading back to the University of Alaska.

The University of Alaska’s Board of Regents announced today that it has unanimously selected Pitney as the interim president for the University of Alaska System, a position she will hold for the minimum of one year. Pitney is currently the Legislature’s finance division director and has 23 years of experience at the University of Alaska (she also took home the 1984 Olympic Gold Medal in rifle).

Pitney’s time at the University of Alaska was capped off with as the vice chancellor of the University of Alaska Fairbanks before she served as the budget director under former Gov. Bill Walker. The board’s decision was unanimous, coming after several days of interviews with other finalists selected from a pool of 35 applicants.

“What an honor to be selected to help the university at this time. I’m really looking forward to it, I know we have a lot of work ahead of us,” she said, pledging to reach out to every corner of the university system. “I will hit the ground running and very much look forward to working with all of you in addressing the challenges we have ahead.”

Pitney will take over on Aug. 1, replacing Acting President Michelle Rizk. Rizk, who’s the University of Alaska’s Vice President of University Relations, was one of the five finalists.

Pitney’s background in budgeting will come at a critical time for the University of Alaska, which is grappling with the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on top of several years of deep cuts in state funding. That economic strain and intercampus infighting contributed to the resignation of former UA President Jim Johnsen.

While the system will face its own challenges, Pitney said the University of Alaska still has a significant opportunity and a role to play with helping Alaska’s economy recover from the pandemic.

“We also have tremendous opportunity,” she said. “The university can really be helpful in this time where we have to be focused on an economic recovery. … There’s a way forward, a very positive way forward.”

According to an announcement from the University of Alaka, Pitney will serve in the interim position for a minimum of one year as the Board of Regents gets underway with the search for a permanent replacement. Her time at the head of the UA system can be extended an additional six months if the board needs additional time to reach a decision.

Following faculty calls for Johnsen’s resignation, the UA Board of Regents is particularly keen on finding a replacement that can help mend relationships between campuses and the statewide administration.

“One of the reasons the board felt so strongly about Pat as interim president was because of her demonstrated commitment to a spirit of partnership with university leadership and the principles of shared governance. We are confident that she has the skills to address the range of issues facing UA. We also are confident that her many years of experience in leadership positions and state government will benefit and unify all of us,” said Board Chair Sheri Buretta in a prepared statement. “In agreeing to lead the university, Pat will bring a fresh perspective on engaging our faculty and staff on strategies to increase enrollment and student success, as well as helping us manage within our budget realities.”

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