University of Alaska leadership up for review

After a vote of no confidence by both UAA and UAF Faculty Senates, the future of University of Alaska president Jim Johnsen is under scrutiny. The no confidence votes suggest that a person in a position of responsibility is no longer deemed fit to hold that position, and is a serious action for faculty leadership to take.

The process took several weeks of discussion while the Faculty Senates were reportedly very careful and thorough in the assessment of facts before deciding it was the appropriate action.

Johnsen has been questioned by faculty members for failing to take notice of concerns, as well as scarce communication regarding finances at the university and under Strategic Pathways.

“The vote was an expression of the faculty, and that they are extremely unhappy with the direction that the university is going into under the leadership of president Johnsen,” Abel Bult-Ito, UAF professor and United Academics president, said.

David Fitzgerald, professor in the College of Business and Public Policy, who is also the president of the UAA Faculty Senate, admitted that with faculty turnover as high as it is, in addition to low morale, serious action had to be taken to halt these issues.

“The faculty believe that the president’s performance is detrimental to the university, so there are many questions about his ability to lead it. Our numerous attempts to convince him to change course or even seriously consider our recommendations have so far failed,” Fitzgerald said. “After repeated attempts to get the president and the Board of Regents to take the respective Faculty Senates seriously produced no results, a vote of no confidence was determined to be the appropriate action.”

Frank Jeffries, a professor of business administration at UAA, conducted an analysis of faculty turnover rates of United Academics members. Jeffries found that in 2013, 25 percent of the faculty at UAA said they were actively looking for jobs. Today, 41 percent are reportedly actively looking for jobs.

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Other recent surveys show that 54 percent of the university faculty are concerned about job security and 84 percent say that morale is declining.

“It is important to note that according to the latest surveys, the motivation and morale issues are not just faculty issues. Staff are also being adversely impacted and are unhappy, but many are afraid to speak up for fear of retribution,” Fitzgerald said.

While presenting the university budget for the 2018 fiscal year to the Alaska State Legislature in Juneau, Johnsen made some public statements that made faculty members propose potential dishonesty. Johnsen reportedly answered a question about faculty leaving and was quoted saying that he “did not see a rush for the door,” and that he was unaware of the high number of faculty leaving.

Speculation surrounding the integrity of university administration has been circulating at faculty meetings, where many members question the entirety of the system.

“We need to stop and rethink the entire university system structure. Why do we need 200 people in central administration at UA? They are not regionally accredited, do not teach, and do not do research, yet they try to control those of us who do,” Fitzgerald said.

Bult-Ito stated that many of the faculty feel that decisions made by Johnsen and the Board of Regents are based off nothing more than anecdotal evidence or people talking about the university — not based on a cross benefit analysis.

“Any decisions that have gone through Strategic Pathways and have been implemented have been done without careful analysis of how much it costs, how much it will save or the effect it will have on the morale of the staff and faculty involved,” Bult-Ito said.

Brian Cook, an assistant professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance and a UAA faculty senator, shared concerns regarding university leadership and Strategic Pathways. Cook also serves on the Strategic Pathways Phase III committee on arts and humanities.

“Many faculty are concerned that Strategic Pathways is doing more harm than good, that it is not collaborative nor based in true shared governance practices, and that the impact has already been significant to the morale of faculty, staff and students,” Cook said. “I feel, as do many other faculty, that there is not enough transparency in the Strategic Pathway process and that there are unstated motivations in the changes prompted, which are not being clearly articulated. Faculty, staff and students are frustrated and feel that they don’t have a say in the changed that directly impact us.”

Cook acknowledged that clear solutions between administration and faculty are needed for the University of Alaska to move forward, with or without the current leadership.