NOTE: I sent this letter to the Regents today. I was not able to log in to the website for the Presidential search, as I am no longer part of the UW community.
I watched the open forum yesterday with James Johnsen, who has been recommended to the Board of Regents as a candidate for the position of President of the University of Wisconsin System. After watching the forum, I have a series of questions for you to ponder.
On systemic racism
As individuals and groups in the United States grapple with the issue of systemic racism, would you hire Jim Johnsen to lead your organization? Do you believe that he presently demonstrates sufficient understanding of the underlying core problem to be an effective leader on this issue? Or do his answers in the forum — that he had a close relationship with a black man as a child, and that he was “a minority” when he worked for a non-profit Alaska Native corporation — signify that he himself is ignorant about the issue, and would not be in the position to lead on it?
Other credentials aside, I sincerely doubt that Mr. Johnsen would be chosen to lead Nicolet National Bank, the Michael Best law firm, Lutheran Social Services, American Transmission Company, Aurora Health Care, Milwaukee Urban League, Polsinelli, Klein, Nodolf Flory, TDS Telecom, or the Berbeewalsh Foundation. He should not be selected to lead one of the state’s largest employers.
On the position of the University of Wisconsin System in the state
Is Mr. Johnsen so naive that he believes all it takes is rhapsodizing about the Wisconsin Idea and constituent pressure for legislators to increase support for the UW System? Is he unaware of the history of budget cuts, made by the legislature in the face of constituent opposition? Does he think that Kathy Cramer’s research explains the failure of support for University funding even from members of the Board of Regents?
A 72-county tour, and meeting legislators on their home turf, will be insufficient to change the dynamic in the state.
On understanding the role of shared governance
Does Mr. Johnsen recognize that the System president should also be responsive to faculty, staff and students? It seems not. Mr. Johnsen was pleased to note that shared governance bodies have a seat on the board of regents for the University of Alaska, yet when asked about the two no-confidence votes taken against him (in 2017 and 2019), he more or less shrugged and said, “But I have the support of the Board and the legislature.” So much for staff, faulty, and student input.
Others will present you with additional questions about Mr. Johnsen’s qualifications for a position that will only become more difficult over the next several years. Please do not dismiss these questions. The future of the state depends on a healthy University of Wisconsin system, and it is clear to me and thousands of others that James Johnsen is woefully unprepared to tend to the system’s health in the way it needs.
2-time alumna (B.A, 1973, MA, Library and Information Science, 1990)
Retired academic staff member