University of Alaska president addresses lawmakers after no-confidence votes

President Jim Johnsen explains Strategic Pathways at University of Alaska Southeast’s Egan Lecture Hall Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. (Photo by Quinton Chandler/KTOO)

The faculty senate at the University of Alaska Fairbanks voted no-confidence in University President Jim Johnsen’s leadership on Monday, Feb. 6. The vote followed the same move by the Anchorage faculty Jan. 13.

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Johnsen addressed the issue Jan. 8 at a meeting of the Senate Education Committee.

After absorbing more than $50 million in budget cuts over the past two years, Johnsen and the Board of Regents are in the process of consolidating the university’s administration through what they call the “Strategic Pathways” program.

The no-confidence votes came after Johnsen reversed his recommendation to headquarter the school of education in Fairbanks after the City and Borough of Juneau offered a $1 million contribution to support the school. The faculties say they were not involved in that decision, as well as others.

Sen. Gary Stevens raised the issue.

“I think you made the right decision on moving the school of education headquarters here to the Juneau campus, but still, in all, as a former faculty member I am quite concerned of where you’re going in relationship to the faculty. … They apparently feel they’ve been left out. … How are you going to bridge that gap?” Stevens asked.

Johnsen responded that 89 faculty have been involved in the Strategic Pathways process thus far, and there will be more involvement in the next phase.

Going forward, there will be two rounds of consultation with every affected organizational unit … In addition to that we’re scheduling time with the faculty senates themselves, so that they have an opportunity to weigh in,” Johnsen said. “You know change is very, very difficult and you’ve given us budgets that are tough to meet, and I can’t take seven years to go through processes to make decisions about how we’re going to move forward. We have to make those decisions expeditiously.”

Stevens’ response was light-hearted.

“There’s an old joke that I didn’t like when I was a professor and that is ‘how many professors does it take to change a light bulb?’ and the answer is ‘change?’” Johnsen said. “But, I say that in humor because I love the faculty … and we can get beyond this, I believe.”

Sen. Shelley Hughes, who chairs the committee, ended the hearing by encouraging faculty involvement in the consolidation process.

Johnsen is scheduled to talk about the university’s recruitment strategy, the land grant deficit and other issues at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, in the House Finance Subcommittee on the university.

*This story was corrected to indicate that UA President Jim Johnsen will be speaking at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, in the House Finance Subcommittee.