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Jim Johnsen, president of the University of Alaska system, withdrew his name from consideration to become the University of Wisconsin system’s next president.

Johnsen had been advanced as the sole finalist for the presidency, drawing criticism from students, faculty and staff who said the search committee excluded them and lacked transparency.

“It’s disappointing, a dark day for the UW System,” Andrew Petersen, UW system regent president, said in a statement. “Dr. Johnsen is a fine person who conducted himself with professionalism and honor throughout the process, during which he was unanimously identified by the search committee as the best candidate for our system.”

The UW system will not immediately begin a new search. Instead, it will “work to identify and get through our immediate financial and operational challenges with the pandemic, then deliberate on the next steps to conduct a new search when there is a better opportunity,” Petersen said.

State and campus unions saw Johnsen’s withdrawal as a victory for students and employees.

“We’re glad to see that Jim Johnsen has heeded the voices of union members around the state who have pushed back against this process, and this candidate. From the start, this search was fatally flawed by an unprecedented decision to exclude faculty, staff, and students from the committee,” Jon Shelton, AFT-Wisconsin vice president for higher education, said in a press release.

In his own statement, Johnsen also mentioned the flawed search process.

“After deep reflection as to where I am called to lead a university system through these challenging times, it is clear to me and my family that it is in Alaska,” Johnsen said in the statement. “I appreciate the strong support from the search committee at Wisconsin, and for all those who supported my candidacy, but it’s clear they have important process issues to work out.”

The University of Alaska is facing deep financial issues following years of declining enrollment and cuts to state funding. At a recent board meeting, Johnsen proposed merging the system's Fairbanks and Southeast campuses, and the system's board voted to scale back or discontinue more than 40 academic programs.