UA System presidential candidate promises to listen and share

The candidate to be the state university system’s next president is meeting with students, faculty and community members around the state this week.

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Jim Johnsen at a meet and greet in Juneau, July 7, 2015. Johnsen is a candidate for University of Alaska president. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)
Jim Johnsen at a meet and greet in Juneau, July 7, 2015. Johnsen is a candidate for University of Alaska president. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

To see a schedule of UA system presidential candidate Jim Johnsen’s visits or to submit written feedback, go to the Board of Regents’ website, www.alaska.edu.

Jim Johnsen has a professional background in organized labor, academia and, most recently, in corporate business as a senior manager for Alaska Communications and Doyon Limited, the Alaska Native corporation for the interior.

In June, the University of Alaska Board of Regents selected him as its single finalist to lead the system. The candidate is tall, energetic and quick with a smile.

If he gets the job, he says students and faculty can expect him to be present on campuses around the state, listening and sharing ideas for how to strengthen the university in tough fiscal times.

Here’s how Johnsen describes the job:

“In large part to be the voice of the university for the state, OK? To represent the university in the legislature, to represent the university with the governor, and the governor’s staff … so there’s an external side to things with big corporations, and other NGOs, Congress, etc. so that’s the outside piece.

The inside piece is to make sure the university is organized in a way that delivers the best and widest access to students using technology, etc., delivers high quality academic programs cost effectively. ”

He highlighted two areas he wants to work on, remedial education and Arctic research. He says over half of the university system’s students require remedial education, a major challenge.

His ambition for the university system as an Arctic research center is to be the best.

“Alaska right now has the number one research university in the world when it comes to Arctic research. We’ve gotta keep that, and we’ve gotta, in fact, grow that, because over the next 10, 20, 30 years, there’s going to be a lot of action in the north. And I think we want to position ourselves to continue to be leading in the study of and the understanding of that very, very important part of the world.”

Courtney Enright was the board’s student regent during the main selection process.
“What I really was looking for was someone who focused on students, or understood that students have an important role in the university. So somebody that had that understanding of that connection of students as the customer, effectively, for the university.”

Enright graduated in May and spoke from Louisiana, where she’s beginning a new job. She said Johnsen was an exemplary candidate. She suggested students keep an eye on tuition rates as one gauge of his performance.

“The president does submit formally the tuition recommendation every year to the Board of Regents. That’s one of the biggest measures students really look at. But, given the fiscal challenges of the university, it’s a little bit more uh, I think complicated these years than to just judge based on that number.”

The regents are expected to finalize their selection at the end of the month.