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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

Search Committee Names One Finalist For UW System President

Monique Musick

A search committee for the next University of Wisconsin System President has named just one finalist for the job. Jim Johnsen is currently president of the University of Alaska System, a position he has held since 2015.

Johnsen will “go through multiple committee and shared governance interviews” next week, according to a Tuesdaypress release. If Johnsen is selected by the full UW Board of Regents, he would replace current president Ray Cross, who announced his intention to retire last fall.

Regent Vice President Michael Grebe served as chair of the presidential search committee. In a written statement, he said the candidate pool was “very deep and strong.”

But the press release notes that the pandemic posed challenges for the presidential search, and that several candidates removed their names from consideration. 

“The committee unanimously agreed on a first choice of finalist in Dr. Jim Johnsen as a strong, qualified, collaborative leader who would be an excellent choice as the next president of the UW System,” Grebe said.

The presidential search process has been criticized for not being inclusive enough of faculty and staff.

The next UW System president will be tasked with leading the state’s public universities through one of the most difficult times in the system’s history. Universities were already struggling with declining enrollment and frozen tuition revenue. The coronavirus pandemic is driving UW schools into an even deeper financial hole, as they grapple with how to safely bring students back to campuses.

Cross, the outgoing UW president, put forward a controversial “blueprint” last month to reshape the system in response to financial challenges. Cross proposed eliminating some duplicative programs at universities and consolidating more administrative functions at the systemwide level. The proposal faced immediate backlash, and it’s unclear where it stands now. The board of regents meets Thursday, but the blueprint is not scheduled for a vote.


Emily is an editor and project leader for WUWM.
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