The American Association of University Professors Wisconsin and Associated Students of Madison have both released statements in opposition to the University of Wisconsin’s announcement of a single finalist for UW System president in the time since that finalist’s announcement last week.
The UW System Search Committee announced June 2 that one candidate, the current University of Alaska System President Jim Johnsen, would move forward as a finalist. In their statement, the UW Search Committee said the other remaining candidates removed their names from the search pool before the finalists were announced — some expressed concern over having their names shared publicly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Both AAUP Wisconsin President Nick Fleisher and ASM Chair Laura Downer called on the UW System Search Committee to declare the process a failed search. Both expressed concerns over Johnsen’s record as president of the UA System in their statements.
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In 2019, Johnsen attempted to consolidate the University of Alaska System into one institution, which met backlash from school chancellors, staff and faculty. Later that year, the UAA Faculty Senate pushed for Johnsen’s removal, which AAUP addressed in their statement.
“These are disqualifying attributes in any candidate,” Fleisher said. “Basic norms of decency and respect toward our colleagues in Alaska dictate that we oppose Johnsen’s candidacy in the strongest possible terms.”
Search Committee Chair Michael Grebe said the committee unanimously unanimous supported Johnsen as the finalist at the Board of Regents meeting last week Thursday.
Grebe said while Johnsen was the only candidate left after others removed their names from consideration, Johnsen was the unanimous preference for a finalist among the committee. Additionally, Grebe said the committee chose not to return to the pool of semi-finalists to advance additional finalists for several reasons.
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“Our view is that it would have been disingenuous, intended only to create the perception that there were multiple finalists when we had already made a decision on who we would be recommending,” Grebe said. “We also felt it would be very unfair to anybody we would be asking back into the process.”
Grebe said the committee decided not to restart the search because it would delay the process by a minimum of six months, which the committee believed would not be in the best interest of the system. Grebe also said the committee likely wouldn’t find a stronger pool of candidates if they restarted, as many people wouldn’t join a second search.
Grebe said the committee felt Johnsen was the strongest candidate and conducting a second search in order to announce more than one finalist might lead Johnsen to drop his candidacy.
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Despite this, Downer and Fleisher asked the committee to restart their search for a system president.
“While we understand that a failed search will stress system operations in the short run, the Associated Students of Madison rejects the flawed search process and will not support Johnsen’s candidacy,” Downer wrote. “We join thousands of students, faculty and staff to call for a new search for a University of Wisconsin System President.”
The search committee conducted Johnsen’s finalist interview June 9 and anyone in the public can view and comment on it until 5 p.m. tomorrow, June 11.