UAA Faculty Senate vote “no confidence” in UA President, Chief IT Officer

In a majority vote, the University of Alaska Anchorage Faculty Senate voted for two no confidence motions in a special meeting on Jan. 13. The two motions were set on the agenda as votes of no confidence in University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen and Chief Information Technology Officer Karl Kowalski.

According to a document by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges posted to the Faculty Senate website prior to the special meeting, a vote of no confidence aims to send a message to leaders that the staff has “lost faith in the… policies and style of leadership.” The vote on the motion does not ensure the resignation or dismissal of university leadership, but airs a grievance from the faculty board.

Evidence from motions suggests that no confidence is held in Johnsen primarily in conjunction with the Strategic Pathways process, which began in spring 2016. The motion also suggests that actions taken by Johnsen have resulted in low faculty morale and high staff turnover, resulting in “fundamental threats” to the quality of education.

Frank Jefferies, professor of management and marketing, helped the Faculty Senate draft the resolutions, and spoke specifically to Johnsen’s Strategic Pathways plan.

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UAA Faculty Senate president Dave Fitzgerald walks senators through the agenda from the Jan. 13 special meeting. Photo credit: Kathryn DuFresne

“The Strategic Pathways initiative, in and of and by itself, as far as following business practices that are acceptable and best practices… it doesn’t. They appear to have made decisions about what direction they are going to go; they completely ignore financial implications about the decisions that they’re making,” Jefferies said. “I understand the duties and responsibilities of a board member, unless the Board of Regents operates on a completely different set of rules. The president shouldn’t be involved in day-to-day operational level decisions; they should be operating at a strategic level, and this is not what’s going on.”

Soren Orley, UAA accounting professor, also discussed the problems rooted within Strategic Pathways and the actions taken by the Board and Johnsen, but was not convinced that the motion was the correct action.

“The consolidation has been going on… this is not something new. The board hired Jim [Johnsen], and I think at this point in time, Jim is the messenger versus the person that’s [giving] the message. I’m really questioning whether it’s a non-confidence in Jim, or it’s a vote of non-confidence in our Board of Regents.”

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Several other faculty including Paul Dunscomb, chair of the history department; Larry Foster, mathematics professor; and Carrie King, an associate professor in the Community and Technical College all expressed concerns over the effects of the no confidence vote.

“I question the wisdom in the timing, because, to quote Forrest [Nabors, political science professor], ‘the vote of no confidence is the first step in the process, and the process needs to be taken,’ but the process is so unknown, it’s so ill-defined,” King said. “What is our strategy? And I feel like we need to define that a little bit better before we take an action at this level.”

Many others pushed that if Anchorage’s Faculty Senate did not move on the motion, Fairbanks and Southeast may be hesitant to move forward. Cathy Coulter from the College of Education noted that change has already affected her program in town, and waiting for the process would “be seen as weak.”

Max Kullberg, assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences, and Jill Flanders-Crosby, professor of dance, used their voices to share their pride in faculty, but note the concern they share for students and the future voice of colleagues.

“This has always been a university where I have had so much pride in what we as a talented, creative and imaginative faculty have accomplished,” Flanders-Crosby said. “I think we need to remember that this is not necessarily just about us, but it’s a lot about our students. They can feel us in our low morale. They are witnessing actions that are being taken that are impacting their courses… It is our students that need our careful concern and consideration. It is time to take that shot.”

Kullberg focused the conversation back to Strategic Pathways, and how time may be running out.

“I feel like [Strategic Pathways] divides us by the three institutions. If it looks like we’re a strong department… we’re told to keep our head down and not to stick up for our colleagues. We’re not collaborating and it’s making us work against each other. They’re dividing and conquering… and I hate that. I also hate this idea… of voting out of fear. It’s too late for that, we called this meeting, we’re all here, we all feel this way. If we go back on it now, we’ve taken away all our power, we’re not going to get this momentum again. It either happens now, or it doesn’t happen at all.”

A call to question, or a request to cease discussion was called after over an hour and twenty minutes of discussion, and the final vote, only requiring a simple majority to be approved, passed 28 to 9, with over 75 percent of faculty senators voting no confidence.

Motion B concerning Kowalski cites long-term IT issues with a transition to Google mail, conflicts of resources while updating Blackboard and email, the conflict of making changes during finals week — typically a week where IT changes freeze — and an overall loss of morale to the university as a whole.

The motion was called to question immediately, and went straight to a vote without formal discussion. However, the lack of confidence in Statewide IT was expressed within the conversation for motion A.

“None of us in this room can possibly have confidence in… the email fiasco that [Kowalski] did. So that is a given, I think,” Toby Widdecombe, English professor and faculty senator said.

The vote of no confidence in Kowalski was called to a vote without discussion, and passed 29 to 6.

Motion A will be directed towards the Board of Regents, and motion B will be submitted to Kowalski. According to several faculty senators, University of Alaska Fairbanks and Southeast are expected to follow suit in the vote of no confidence in Johnsen.