An impasse at UAS

Local university has key vacancies and no likelihood of permanent appointments any time soon

Posted: Monday, June 01, 2009

Following months of tension between the faculty and administration at University of Alaska Southeast, Chancellor John Pugh nearly faced a "no confidence" vote by the Faculty Senate this spring.

Interim Provost James Everett was not so lucky.

Everett, who also served in his full-time job as vice-provost and as acting dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, stepped down from the acting provost position after the April 19 vote.

Faculty Senate member Mark Speece said he voted against the no confidence motion against Pugh, despite agreeing with those who made it.

"We're concerned that if we go to the barricades and vote 'no confidence,' we'll be starting a big fire that nobody is going to be able to put out," Speece said.

Such a fire nearly started late last year when Pat Brown, the Dean of Arts and Sciences, was fired with no official explanation. That's the largest school at UAS, said Human Resources Director Kirk McAllister, with more than half its undergraduate credit hours.

A spring search for a new dean to replace Brown was unsuccessful and will resume in the fall.

Retired Provost Robbie Stell returned to the college, and will fill the interim provost position until a permanent provost is selected, likely in the fall, college officials said.

While the Faculty Senate declined to challenge Pugh with a "no confidence" vote, they did pass resolutions asking for a larger role in governance of the university. Pugh vetoed the resolution, saying it infringed on his authority, but said he supported its intent.

"When you've got unhappy staff or faculty, it does cause you to be concerned," Pugh said. "That's not everybody in the School of Arts and Sciences, though."

Faculty Senate President Jill Dumesnil said the faculty is still not clear why Brown was fired. Publicity surrounding that unresolved issue may be why the search for a new dean failed, she said.

The vote against Everett was likely a result of the frustration over the Brown issue, though McAllister said he may also have been overworked.

"Three jobs was a little much," he said.

McAllister had little new to add about the Brown firing.

"It wasn't a good job fit," McAllister said. "He had what you would call fundamental differences with the upper administration."

McAllister declined to say what those differences were.

There are differing views on why the search for Brown's replacement failed. Pugh said the search panel was unhappy with the candidates.

"They felt like the pool they got, who they interviewed by phone - it wasn't a strong enough pool," Pugh said.

Dumesnil said that all of the finalists withdrew, and likely found reports of the firing of Brown in an Internet search. "I think that had something to do with it."

She said some candidate had sought a position with a tenure track, but the administration was adamant that the new dean would not get tenure.

"The administration will not negotiate, they do not want deans who are tenured," she said.

Speece, who teaches in the School of Management, not Arts and Sciences, said he thinks the loss of Brown, the tension with faculty, and the no confidence vote on the interim provost are tied to the problems in recruiting.

"I think they are primarily because the top administration seems to have become very authoritarian," he said. "People who take dissenting views, people who do that aren't going to last very long," he said.

A reconciliation committee has been trying to bridge the gap between faculty and administration, especially in the School of Arts and Sciences. Pugh said he supports that effort.

"I'm certainly concerned about making sure we fix whatever issues we've got in Arts and Sciences," Pugh said.

Pugh said the difficulty in hiring a dean may have had to do with Juneau's cost of living, and the undergraduate focus of the university.

Candidates "may be looking for more research opportunities, we don't have large research labs," he said.

"There was some concern about buying a house in Juneau, those sorts of things," Pugh said.

Pugh, Dumesnil and others said they don't expect either the dean or the provost positions to be filled for at least a year, though some search work is ongoing.

"Most of the people you would want to hire already have jobs, and they have to give a certain amount of notice," Dumesnil said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or

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