Northern Wyoming News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By Karla Pomeroy

NEWS EDITORIAL: A trust issue for UW trustees


April 4, 2019

The University of Wyoming Board of Trustees has a trust issue and a transparency issue. How they proceed with the new presidential search will determine if they can fix these two issues.

The board opted last week to not offer current President Laurie Nichols a contract extension, rather they are allowing the contract to expire in June. Nichols has agreed to take a position on the faculty.

Nichols visited Worland a few times in her three-year tenure at the helm of the state’s only land-grant university. Her visits seemed well received.

She appears to have been well-liked by staff and students, with Worland High School graduate and UW student body president Alex Mulhall talking to the Northern Wyoming News about what a shock it was to students to learn she would not continue in her position.

The first problem with this arose when the board released its announcement about Nichols’ contract. There was no mention that the board declined to offer the contract extension. The three-paragraph release has a headline regarding the president moving to a faculty position. The lead notes her contract expires June 30.

There are nice quotes from Nichols and Board President Dave True.

Not until you read articles from the Laramie Boomerang do we as alumni, state taxpayers, students, faculty and state residents and other UW stakeholders find out that that the board did not renew her contract. The Boomerang’s lead by Daniel Bendtsen states the full facts … “Laurie Nichols’ presidency at the University of Wyoming will come to an end June 30 after her contract was not renewed by the Board of Trustees.”

Why couldn’t the trustees be more forthcoming in their release. Their short release made it sound like the parting was mutual.

If you read further in the Boomerang article, Bendtsen quotes Nichols, who addressed the Faculty Senate stating, “I was very surprised by this decision. It wasn’t anticipated and I just learned of it very recently myself. It is indeed the board’s decision to make, and I think, as an institution, we honor that and move on.”

So, we know by her comments that the decision was not mutual.

Again, the trustees needed to be forthcoming and state that her contract was not being renewed but that they had offered her a position on the faculty, which she accepted.

Nichols is right, it is time to move on. But, how do we as UW stakeholders move on when we now have trust issues with the board of trustees. Can we trust that the releases they put out are going to tell us the whole story?

We understand with personnel issues there are limitations to what can be disclosed. I believe they can and should be more forthcoming. I hate to belabor the point, but I’m going to, they needed to be upfront with their decision as a board.

One thing I have learned as the editor of the Northern Wyoming News, once you make a decision you need to own that decision and you need to be able to justify that decision. The board, by not publicly acknowledging from the start that they did not renew her contract, are not “owning” their decision. Why not? Were they intentionally trying to mislead UW stakeholders, alumni, staff and students? We don’t know, but there is an appearance that they were trying to hide something and for a public institution and public board that is something they should avoid.

The trustees need to remember that they are in charge of the state’s only land-grant institution, funded by state taxpayers, with assistance from donations of alumni, as well as others. We need to hold them accountable for their decisions. We need them to justify their decisions.

Moving forward the trustees need to involve the public, and, of course, UW faculty, staff and students, as they have on a few searches. With the Nichols search they involved those groups in determining exactly what they would be looking for in a president.

I encourage them to do so again, but in addition, I encourage them to involve those groups in the selection process. UW and many local school districts have held public meetings to introduce groups to their top candidates for president or superintendent. They’ve allowed the groups to ask questions and provide the boards with feedback.

The UW board has a trust and transparency issue and making the search for UW’s next president as transparent as possible, and involving the stakeholders as much as possible would be a good step in repairing the damage caused by how they handled ending Nichols’ contract.


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