President Johnsen speaks at major business forum in Anchorage


University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen spoke to 1500 Anchorage business and community leaders about the contributions that the university makes to the state’s economy through research and workforce development, and the critical need for Alaska to maintain a strong higher education system.  His remarks were part of the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation (AEDC) Three-Year Outlook Luncheon.

The July 31 luncheon focused on the outlook for jobs and the economy in Southcentral Alaska, and included presentations by AEDC CEO Bill Popp.

Any optimism earlier this year that the economy of Alaska’s largest city would recover from a downturn has been wiped away by state budget cuts, Popp told the audience. The cuts “essentially eliminate any chance of economic recovery and, in fact, promise to keep the local economy in recession for two to three more years.”

Massive budget cuts to the University of Alaska system would be “particularly damaging” for the local economy, Popp said.

Keynote speaker Roger Brooks provided a rousing presentation on economic development through revitalization of Anchorage’s downtown core.

Johnsen began his remarks by quoting the Charles Dickens classic A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”

In that context, Johnsen told the audience about how the economic challenges facing the university is requiring it to adapt, and explained the decision by the Board of Regents to transition to one university. Despite obstacles and a crippling budget shortfall, the university is taking action to ensure that it will continue to serve Alaskans and our economy well into the future.

Tough times inspire great leadership, Johnsen said, and our regents and chancellors have shown courage in making tough decisions and forging a new direction for the university. “The Board of Regents directed me to begin the process of consolidating the University of Alaska under one accreditation. Restructuring UA is how we will preserve our core strengths and to thrive in a new economic and technological world.”

“While the UA’s structure will evolve, our collaboration with Anchorage and Southcentral businesses will remain strong,” he said. “Our partners here in Anchorage work with our students to provide excellent experience in the workplace. Businesses here and throughout the state hire our graduates as engineers, nurses, teachers, accountants, firefighters, process technicians, and in so many more occupations.”

He specifically mentioned the new partnership that the university has with Anchorage-based McKinley Capital and cited the work of university researchers to solve pervasive societal problems.

Johnsen’s appearance at the annual AEDC event is the first of many the president will be making throughout August as the university engages constituencies – students, faculty, alumni, donors, community members – about the university’s transition.