Former Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell selected to lead University of Alaska Anchorage

Former Gov. Sean Parnell waited to cast his Electoral College vote for Donald Trump during a ceremony in December 2016 in Juneau. Parnell endorsed Mike Dunleavy for governor on Tuesday. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Former Republican Gov. Sean Parnell will be the new leader of the University of Alaska Anchorage, the state’s largest university.

Interim University of Alaska President Pat Pitney announced Wednesday that she had picked Parnell as the next UAA chancellor. 

Parnell beat out Pearl Brower, the former president of Iḷisaġvik College, along with Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop and five other finalists for the job. 

In a letter to the UAA community, Pitney said she selected Parnell because of “his passion for our mission, his deep commitment to Alaska, and his desire for all Alaskans to have access to higher education.” 

Pitney also said Parnell had support from the search committee, as well as the UAA community, including students. 

“I believe Sean to be uniquely positioned to lead UAA in providing the programs that support Anchorage and Alaska’s workforce needs and economic growth, including innovative research to drive the state forward,” she said.

Parnell will take the lead of a university that has recently grappled with deep state budget cutsaccreditation issues and the pandemic. The entire UA system is approaching its final year of a three-year, $70 million state budget cut that began in 2019 — imposed under Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy. The slashed funding has led to hundreds of layoffs across the university system, and the elimination of some academic programs.

Parnell will start his new job as UAA chancellor June 12.

He served as Alaska’s governor for five years beginning in 2009, when he moved from lieutenant governor to the state’s top elected position after the resignation of Sarah Palin. He was elected in 2010, then lost his re-election bid in 2014 to independent Bill Walker. 

As governor, one of Parnell’s signature pieces of legislation led to the creation of the Alaska Performance Scholarship, a fund for high-achieving Alaska students, which Pitney also cited in the letter. 

Parnell is currently an attorney in Anchorage.

He’s taking over the chancellor position from Cathy Sandeen, who left UAA in early January to become president of California State University, East Bay.

UAA has campuses in Anchorage, Soldotna, Kodiak, Palmer, Valdez and Homer.

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