Consultant sparks debate over the next UA President

By Suzanna Caldwell and Joshua Tucker

Passions were strong as the consultant in charge of refining the search for the next University of Alaska President looked for feedback from faculty, students and the Anchorage community.

Academic Search Senior Consultant Dr. Elaine Hairston spent Sept. 17 and 18 on the Anchorage campus meeting with various groups, including two public forums. Her aim was to create a position profile that will be used to recruit potential candidates for the President’s position.

Included will be information on the state of Alaska, the three main universities, challenges and opportunities within the job.

Hairston said that she is asking the same questions at three different universities. The idea is to find themes that will form the context for the search.

“It will help to understand the nature of the leadership position,” Hairston said.
Hairston spent Sept. 16 conducting similar interviews and forums at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She will also hold a video teleconference at University of Alaska Southeast later this month, but will not physically visit the campus.

She said that as the former chancellor of the Ohio Board ofRegents – a system that includes 65 public colleges and university campuses – she is familiar with a system of great diversity. Even though she will not visit UAS she said that her experience in higher education coupled with conferences and speaking with UAS, Chancellor John Pugh should give her the information necessary.

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About 35 people, mostly faculty, attended the first public forum that was open to students, faculty and staff.

Many voiced that experience working in Alaska was crucial. Several speakers claimed that many of the top jobs in Alaska regularly go to people from outside the state who do not understand its unique issues.

However, the issue that drew the most speakers and emotion was the lack of representation of the Anchorage campus in the presidential selection process. Several people said that there was only one faculty member on the selection committee and that this faculty member works at the Fairbanks campus.

Many were concerned that Anchorage’s lack of representation is especially poignant to many faculty because of the lack of equality in the distribution of funds.

“Our Board of Regents is flipping us off. I can’t tell you how hurtful it is to be ignored,” Associate Professor of English Kerri Morris said. “I think the single most important voice in hiring a new president is the faculty, we provide what students need most.”

Professor and Anchorage Assemblywoman Shelia Selkregg spoke at length on the issue.

“In terms of growing the state we need a quality university here in Anchorage,” Selkregg said.

Hairston also addressed the USUAA senate later in the day, asking them what words they would use to describe qualities they would like in a president.

Senator Peter Finn asked that the new President have an open door policy in meeting with members of student government and the students in general.
USUAA President Michaela Hernandez said that the next president should be an “innovative” and “dynamic individual.”

“The system is changing,” Hernandez said. “We need someone who can change with the system changing and treat all universities equally.”

The last forum of the day, open to the entire community, was sparsely attended. Only two faculty and one staff member attended.

Psychology professor Chris Brems noted the lack of doctoral programs at UAA. Brems said that when she was recruited to work at UAA it was made clear that she would eventually teach doctorate level students. That was 20 years ago.

Currently, there is a joint doctoral program with UAF in psychology. Brems said the program functions well, but it still does not give UAA the distinction of being a university that awards doctorate degrees.

“It’s a disservice to the state that we’re not a doctoral institution,” Brems said.
Hairston plans to deliver her report the Board of Regents in mid October. The search firm will then actively recruit potential candidates. She stressed that anyone will be able nominate candidates.

A pool should be finalized by mid December. The Board of Regents will then select 10-15 people they are interested in, and then conduct confidential interviews with their top six to eight choices.

The top three of four choices should be announced in early February. The potential candidates will then visit the campuses, gaining feedback, before the Board of Regents make the final decision on who the next president will be.

Hairston stressed that searches have a life of their own and that the time table is a best estimate.

“Quality drives time,” Hairston said. “Time does not drive quality.”