Legislative finance director named University of Alaska interim president

Pat Pitney fields questions from reporters at a press conference called by Gov. Bill Walker, Feb. 5, 2015. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

The University of Alaska system has a new interim president: Pat Pitney, the director of the state Legislative Finance Division.

UA regents announced Tuesday that Pitney will serve as interim president as they search for someone to permanently fill the position left vacant when Jim Johnsen abruptly resigned last month.

Regents selected Pitney from a group of five finalists. They unanimously appointed her to lead the UA system during a meeting broadcast online late Tuesday afternoon.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” Pitney said during the meeting. “I will hit the ground running and very much look forward to working with all of you and addressing the challenges we have ahead. But we also have tremendous opportunity.”

Pitney previously worked as a vice chancellor of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and as the state budget director under former Gov. Bill Walker. 

Pitney will take over as UA interim president on Aug. 1, weeks before the start of fall semester.

Pitney acknowledged that budget challenges await, but “there’s a very positive way forward,” she said.

In recent years, UA has struggled with a series of cuts to its state funding and declining enrollment. It was dealt another financial blow by costs and revenue loss tied to the coronavirus pandemic. The universities also continue to discuss what classes will look like this fall as the number of COVID-19 cases in Alaska continues to rise.

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Pitney has agreed to serve as interim president for at least one year and up to 18 months, according to UA.

The prior UA president, Jim Johnsen, resigned in late June amid escalating calls for him to step down following his interviews for a job in Wisconsin where he made controversial comments about diversity and the PFD.

Reach reporter Tegan Hanlon at thanlon@alaskapublic.org or 907-550-8447.