Statement on Failed UW President Search

The announcement of a single finalist, Jim Johnsen, in the search for the next University of Wisconsin System President is the failed result of a flawed search process that excluded faculty, staff, and student representatives from the beginning. It constitutes nothing less than an insult to the people of Wisconsin.

Johnsen’s record as president of the University of Alaska, which includes massive program-cutting proposals and votes of no confidence from faculty and students, is deeply concerning. The faculty at both the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the Alaska system voted no confidence in Johnsen’s leadership in 2017, and the Anchorage faculty called on their Board to suspend Johnsen in 2019. Basic norms of decency and respect toward our colleagues in Alaska dictate that we oppose Johnsen’s candidacy in the strongest possible terms.

The problems are compounded by the search committee’s decision to name Johnsen as the sole finalist. This is a departure from accepted academic norms, which stipulate nomination of at least two finalists for consideration and transparency about why other candidates were deemed unsuitable as finalists. It is also a violation of AAUP standards of faculty governance.

The Regents chose to pursue an unprecedented search process that excluded faculty, staff, and students. This is its predictably egregious result.

We will not allow a new System President to pursue an agenda of consolidation and closure of programs and campuses. That is Johnsen’s track record in Alaska, and it will be his charge from the Regents here in Wisconsin. Should the Regents persist in installing Johnsen, we will advocate for him to be removed as soon as Walker appointees lose their majority on the Board next spring.

We reaffirm our commitment to the Wisconsin Idea and to bringing the fruits of higher education to the hardworking people of Wisconsin all over the state. We invite the Regents to join us in championing the mission of the UW System.