Karen Carey named new chancellor of University of Alaska Southeast

UAS Chancellor Karen Carey. (Photo courtesy of the University of Alaska Southeast)

Karen Carey is the new permanent chancellor of the University of Alaska Southeast. Carey has been interim chancellor since July when former Chancellor Rick Caulfield retired.

University of Alaska President Pat Pitney announced Wednesday that Carey will now lead UAS, which has campuses in Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka.

Carey said Thursday she’s still a little bit in shock.

“I was working away here at home and President Pitney sent me an email and said she wanted to speak with me, and would I be willing to serve as chancellor in the permanent position? And I was very surprised,” she said.

Carey and President Pitney had discussed looking for a permanent chancellor next fall.

Typically, the university conducts a search to fill chancellor positions. But Carey said she believes Pitney wants to make sure the university continues to move forward.

“We’ve gone through a lot with the budget cuts and COVID and everything that’s been happening to the university over the past five or six years, and I think that she just wants to have things be stable,” Carey said.

UAS and the entire UA system experienced a tumultuous start to the year. Classes moved online abruptly due to COVID-19 last spring. Then UA President Jim Johnsen stepped down in June and the UA Board of Regents considered merging UAS with the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The board voted not to move forward with that plan, but it raised concerns for many people about the future of UAS.

UAS Faculty Senate President David Noon said he’s happy with Carey’s appointment. He agreed that it would bring stability to the campus.

“Having a full time rather than an interim chancellor, I think is an important sign from the university leadership that UAS is going to remain independent, separately accredited to serve all the needs of Southeast Alaska,” Noon said.

Before becoming interim chancellor, Carey served as UAS provost since 2016. She has a Ph.D. in school psychology and arrived in Juneau from California State University Channel Islands.

Carey said enrollment at UAS dropped this fall, but not as much as she expected.

“Certainly COVID has thrown, you know, us all for a loop, and there’s not much we can do about that until we get a vaccine,” she said. “But overall, I think the morale on campus is really good. Even though no one’s on campus, except for a few people.”

She said 120 students are living on campus this semester, and about 30% of classes are happening in-person across the three campuses.

Those classes are observing strict social distancing, and use plexiglass shields between students and instructors when possible. Masks are also required on campus.

Carey said they may expand in-person classes in the spring, but she expects most will continue online.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled former UA President Jim Johnsen’s name.