University president search comes to Juneau

UAS Chancellor Pugh, among candidates, has faced controversy

Posted: Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Candidates for the presidency of the University of Alaska will meet with students and residents at the university's Juneau campus today.

The process to select a new leader has been shrouded in secrecy and is facing some criticism in Juneau. One of the candidates is well-known locally, University of Alaska Southeast Chancellor John Pugh. Other applicants include Patrick Gamble, a retired general who is president of the Alaska Railroad Corp., and Lisa Rossbacher, president of Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta, Ga.

The three candidates will meet individually with faculty, staff and students at UAS' Auke Bay campus, before meeting with the public and legislators at Centennial Hall from 5:30 to 8 p.m. today.

The new University of Alaska president will take over for current president Mark Hamilton, who last June announced his retirement from the job he's held more than a decade.

The Board of Regents has been searching for a new president since then, but didn't release the list of three candidates from which they'll chose until Sunday.

Jonathan Anderson, a professor in Juneau and a representative to the Faculty Alliance, said some members of the faculty were disappointed in the selection process.

"We are extremely disappointed that the regents chose to make this decision totally on their own with little or no input from faculty or staff," he said.

Anderson, who teaches management at UAS, said more input to the regents' decision could help the new president succeed.

"One of the things we teach in management, to be successful you have to have the buy-in of your organization," he said.

The regents' process produced a slate of three candidates for the job. The two Alaska candidates do not hold doctorates, the highest academic credential available. The candidate from Georgia does have a doctorate.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said there may be more-qualified candidates from outside Alaska, but she'd prefer to see a local candidate like Pugh.

"It would be nice to see an Alaskan who has been in the system and been part of the university for many years," she said.

She questioned the regent's secretive process, however.

"I think Alaskans should know who has applied and know a little about the process," she said. "This whole process has been a little secretive and that makes me feel a little bit uneasy."

Pugh's qualifications also are raising some concerns, including fallout from a clash between faculty and administration last year.

Forest Kvasnikoff, a 2009 honors graduate from UAS who spoke at last year's graduation ceremony, said he was "a bit skeptical and wary" of Pugh as president of the system, given his tenure at UAS.

After last year's clash between faculty and administrators, the school's provost resigned after a vote of "no confidence" by faculty. Pugh survived a similar vote, however.

Anderson, who recently stepped down as president of the Faculty Senate at UAS, supported Pugh but acknowledged last year's problems.

"We did have issues last year," he said. "It was primarily with the interim provost, but there was also some unrest with Chancellor Pugh's leadership."

Kvasnikoff recently formed a group called "Alaskans Against Administrative Waste," raising concerns about the growing size of the UAS administrative budget.

"Pugh has overseen a good deal of improvement at UAS, but also under his oversight he's seen administration expenditures double while student tuition has steadily increased and a faculty nearly dislodge him with an attempted vote of no confidence," he said.

Pugh has not returned phone calls from the Empire last week or this week.

Anderson said Pugh has taken steps to try to reconcile differences with the faculty.

"If he should get the presidency, UAS would have an advocate statewide that we haven't had in the past, and that would be truly great," he said.

• Contact Reporter Pat Forgey at

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