Pat Pitney named permanent University of Alaska president

A woman talks at a meeting desk
University of Alaska President Pat Pitney at a 2016 Senate Finance Committee meeting when she was the state budget director. (Skip Gray/360 North)

The University of Alaska Board of Regents has upped UA President Pat Pitney’s status from interim to permanent. Regents unanimously voted for the change on Friday at the end of a two-day board meeting.

Regents Chair Sheri Buretta congratulated Pitney, noting the historic significance of shifting status from interim to permanent UA president.

“It’s taken over a 100 years, but you are the first female in that role for the university,” she said.

Pitney is a long-time UA administrator and former state budget director who was called on to fill in as UA president after the resignation of Jim Johnsen in summer of 2020.

Buretta thanked Pitney for helping the university navigate the past two years, during which it dealt with major state budget cuts and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a time for forward momentum and celebration of our progress in getting through some difficult challenges,” she said.

Speaking to the regents following Friday’s vote, Pitney called the appointment a true honor.

“I’m humbled to be able to represent this great university system and the faculty, staff and students who are engaged,” she said. “I will continue to focus on building team, and that’s team among our universities, that’s teams within our universities and that’s teams with industry, the Legislature and the executive branch.”

Regents’ move to make Pitney UA’s permanent president was not without controversy, as faculty, staff and student governance groups all had passed resolutions opposing the action. The resolutions did not take issue with Pitney, but with the regents’ failure to follow precedent and policies regarding governance groups’ participation in the decision-making process.

UA Coalition of Student Leaders chair Shanone Tejada questioned the regents’ action.

“The board has talked about turning the corner and moving together as a university,” he said. “But there is no togetherness if the board acts unilaterally and in disregard for governance groups.”

Regents countered that the current situation is unique because of Pitney’s qualifications, track record, wide-based support and the added sway they said that making her the permanent president would provide as she advocates for the university during the remaining months of state legislative session.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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