UA President Mark Hamilton announced March 1 that Fran Ulmer, director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research, will serve as interim chancellor following the resignation of Chancellor Elaine Maimon, who is leaving in June to become the president of Governors State University in Illinois. Ulmer will serve as interim chancellor for two years until a permanent chancellor is chosen.
Hamilton told The Northern Light last week that he intended to find an interim chancellor who could conceivably become the permanent replacement once a search is conducted.
In addition to her work at ISER, Ulmer has served as the mayor of Juneau, a state legislator and lieutenant governor. Hamilton’s decision came just 11 days after sending out an initial inquiry to UAA deans, provost and faculty senate for nominations to the position.
“Trying to find someone to take this job was very difficult,” Kerri Morris, president of the faculty senate, said.
Morris, along with Assembly President Kim Stanford and Libby Roderick, program manager for the Center for Advancing Faculty Excellence, presented information regarding the appointment of UAA’s interim chancellor to a full audience in the UAA Student Union Den March 1.
At a Feb. 23 meeting with the Chancellor’s Advisory Board, Hamilton introduced five names of people that he said were being considered as candidates for interim chancellor. But Morris said Hamilton had told her earlier on Feb. 19 that three of the five people – Tom Case, James Liszka and Renee Carter-Chapman – had already asked to be removed.
“I think it was an awkward situation to put them in,” Morris said. “They weren’t interested in this job.”
Before accepting Hamilton’s nomination for interim chancellor, Ulmer said she spoke with University of Southeast chancellor John Pugh and University of Fairbanks chancellor Steve Jones, as well as UAA’s former chancellor Lee Gorsuch and Maimon to get a better feel for what the job was like and to see if it was right for her.
“To be honest, I really had to take some time and think about it,” Ulmer said.
Ulmer said she decided to accept the position because it seemed like a good time for UAA to have a chancellor who had both university and community experience.
“I feel as though I’ve been able to get a sense of the inside and the outside, the internal workings and the external expectations,” Ulmer said.
Ulmer said a change in chancellor should not hinder UAA’s growth and momentum, because the vice chancellors, deans and UAA leadership are already great at their jobs.
“I’m joining a team, and there is a great team there,” Ulmer said. “It’s not just about one person. It wasn’t just about Lee. It wasn’t just about Elaine. And it won’t be just about me.”
At the March 1 forum, Stanford answered questions about speculation of why Maimon chose to leave UAA.
“From our perspective, Chancellor Maimon was facing an antagonistic statewide administration,” Stanford said. “Her ability to do what she wanted – to do what we wanted to have done here – created a very frustrating situation for her.”
Stanford said Hamilton has said he is supportive of equal footing for UAA and UAF within a joint doctoral degree in psychology, which UAA does not currently have, but “he has said he doesn’t support UAA’s being accredited to deliver Ph.D.s, which are two completely contradicting statements.”
In a UA press release, Ulmer said her goal is to “look for opportunities for UAA to strengthen education at all levels because of its importance to the economy and communities of Alaska.”
Stanford said that Hamilton wants to have the interim chancellor in place for one year before beginning the search for a permanent chancellor in the fall of 2008, who will begin to serve in the fall of 2009. She said Hamilton will select the search committee himself.
Maimon said she will be working with Ulmer for a six-week period ending on April 16 to prepare her for the new role. Maimon also said she is willing to continue to help with Ulmer’s transition even after the deadline, as she will still be in Alaska and has been paid to stay until June 30.
“It will be at the discretion of Fran Ulmer as to how active that role will be,” Maimon said.
Morris said Hamilton’s decision to have Maimon gone by mid-April may prevent her from attending commencement and that the faculty senate wishes to keep her around until May 8 for just that reason.
“Hamilton says he is not happy with the idea of Elaine serving in her official capacity in commencement,” Morris said.
Marilyn Borell, academic coordinator of the College of Arts and Sciences, said she was appalled at the idea that chancellor Maimon would not participate in her normal role.
“She will have been here – if she’s allowed to finish the academic year – three years, and there are people getting two-year degrees, certificates and master’s degrees for whom she’s been chancellor the whole time,” Borell said.
But at the community forum on the transition, UAA faculty members also expressed concerns about Ulmer’s qualifications, as well as her political past. However, Scott Goldsmith, the former director of ISER who now works with Ulmer, said that when she stepped into the academic world, she left her political career at the door.
“That was a concern when we brought her to ISER, and I can say two things about it. One was that she vowed that her political career was over and that she was shifting the course of her professional life to academia, and she certainly has been true to that,” Goldsmith said. “She is a consummate politician, and that is going to be great for this campus.”
Maimon agreed and said that Ulmer’s political background should be seen as a positive quality.
“Fran Ulmer is widely respected by R’s and D’s,” Maimon said.
Ulmer said she hopes that her political background will help in UAA’s ability to communicate better with the legislature.
While Goldsmith said Ulmer has a very good working relationship with Hamilton, Ulmer did not seek out the interim chancellor position and is taking it with some reluctance.
Maimon said she played a role in convincing Ulmer and that it wasn’t easy because Ulmer was already in such a good place.
“I wasn’t looking for another job; I’ve been very happy at ISER,” Ulmer said.
As for what will happen at ISER, Goldsmith said he thinks that it will have an interim director until it is known for sure if Ulmer is coming back or continuing on as chancellor at UAA.
“She is a strong individual and has her own ideas about how things should be,” Goldsmith said. “So I think she will be strong for UAA and fight for UAA.”