UAA faculty reaffirms vote of no confidence in UA President

UAA Faculty Senate president Scott Downing speaks at Friday's meeting (Oct. 4, 2019)
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The University of Alaska Anchorage Faculty Senate voted on Friday to reaffirm a vote of no confidence in the university’s president, a non-binding resolution will now be sent to the Board of Regents, demanding that the proposed restructuring of the university be halted until “critical” accreditation concerns are resolved.

The UAA Faculty Senate passed the resolution on a 33-3 vote with one abstention at a regularly-scheduled meeting Friday afternoon.

The resolution calls for the Board of Regents to suspend President Johnsen and the move towards consolidation until "a shared governance response to the NWCCU report is completed" that would address concerns over accreditation.

The vote was sparked by a letter sent last Thursday from the university’s accrediting agency to university leadership.

The letter from Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy, the president of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), emphasized the need to provide “clarity around the authority, roles, and responsibilities of the University of Alaska System and its respective institutions and their leadership.”

On Monday, UA President Dr. Jim Johnsen told KTUU by phone that he was seeking clarification from the NWCCU as to exactly what its concerns are with how the university is managed. Johnsen described how faculty, the chancellors and students have been involved in a review of the university’s academic programs.

An emergency Board of Regents meeting is scheduled in Fairbanks on Oct. 7 to discuss the accreditation issue.

Earlier in Friday's meeting, the senate voted 31-1 to reaffirm a resolution passed on Sept. 30 by the Faculty Alliance, a statewide faculty governance organization, that demanded a moratorium on the expedited program reviews, a creation of a task force to examine accreditation concerns raised by the NWCCU, and and end to any advertising or media suggesting that UA is a singly-accredited university.

University leadership has pushed for a plan to consolidate the University of Alaska into a single accredited institution. In September, the Board of Regents stepped back from that, allowing the possibility of a “consortium model” advocated by the university’s three chancellors that would keep the three accreditations intact.

Scott Downing, the UAA Faculty Senate President, wrote a letter to Ramaswamy on Wednesday, expressing concern that the Board of Regents is moving forward with a consolidation model “without adequate involvement of shared governance and the chancellors.”

“We have received no communication from President Johnsen or Statewide leadership that administrative consolidation or the academic review process being led by Statewide administration is being reassessed given the issues you raised in your letter,” Downing wrote.

In the letter, Downing alluded to a survey conducted by the Faculty Senate that received responses from 277 faculty members, showing strong support for removing Johnsen.

Graph taken from a UAA faculty survey circulated by the UAA Faculty Senate on Oct. 2, 2019. The questionnaire was emailed to approximately 500 faculty and 277 responded.

In 2017, the UAA Faculty Senate and the UAF Faculty Senate passed a similar vote of no confidence in the leadership of Dr. Jim Johnsen over concerns their voices weren’t being heard during budget debates. .

Sine Anahita, the President of the UAF Faculty Senate, said that a similar resolution was not currently being considered in Fairbanks. She said the faculty union had spoken about conducting its own survey of UAF faculty.

A UAF Faculty Senate meeting is scheduled for Monday with a full agenda. Anahita said she wouldn’t be surprised if someone from the floor brought up a similar resolution as the one passed by the UAA Faculty Senate.

According to Maria Williams, who sits on the executive board of the UAA Faculty Senate, University of Alaska Southeast's Faculty Senate is considering a similar resolution to the one passed today by UAA. Their meeting is scheduled for this Friday as well.

The resolution passed today alluded to two recently-published KTUU stories.

One line reads the "President Johnsen has repeatedly and willfully attempted to control communication of the chancellors," apparently referencing two memorandums sent by the Johnsen and the Board of Regents in February and August to the three chancellors, saying that communications needed to be coordinated.

Some UAA faculty members expressed concern that the Board of Regents and Johnsen have stifled debate at the University of Alaska by demanding “unequivocal support” during the height of the budget debates.

Officials that represent the UA Statewide Administration argued that it makes sense for the university to speak with one voice, saying that while there may be three separately accredited universities in the UA system, it is a single legal entity under the Alaska Constitution.

The resolution also states that Johnsen "inappropriately used funds for advertising that misleads the public by promoting a University of Alaska that does not exist as a separately accredited university," an apparent reference to the $500,000 marketing campaign begun in February to advocate for the university during budget discussions that was called UA Strong.

The Board of Regents submitted a response to the resolution late Friday saying that the board, president and three chancellors "appreciate the gravity of the concerns expressed by NWCCU, our faculty, staff and other Alaskan." In the written statement, board chair John Davies defended Johnsen.

“Context is important in understanding these concerns,” Davies said. “Over the last eight months, the university faced a budget crisis that threatened its very existence. That dire circumstance drove the president’s recommendations and the Board’s quick action to declare financial exigency and to explore a possible move to one accreditation."

This is a developing story.

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