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UW seeks input in prez search

LARAMIE — The search for the University of Wyoming's next president continued this week following a small informal “coffee session” held at the UW Rendezvous restaurant Tuesday morning to gather comments and feedback.

A larger listening session open to the campus community and the public will be held at 4 p.m Sept. 24 at the Marion H. Rochelle Gateway Center, said search committee member and associate professor Matthew Painter. Another session is schedule to follow Sept. 25 in Casper. The comments from these sessions will be compiled and sent on to Saratoga attorney and former UW Board of Trustees President John MacPherson.

“I think the way John MacPherson is approaching this is that he’ll take the comments from everybody and that will make the job profile, if you will,” Painter said.

The bulk of comments during the Rendezvous meeting focused on what the relationship would be between the future president and the board of trustees, which is presided over by Casper businessman Dave True. Some of those present said the murky circumstances of former president Laurie Nichols’ departure, whose three-year contract was not renewed by the board, might ward off potential candidates.

“If you’re a new president walking in, you’ve got all this crazy speculation, you have no facts and you have members of the board saying it’s obvious, that’s gonna scare off – I mean any candidate who’s comfortable with that is delusionally self-confident,” said Peter Thorsness, head of the Department of Molecular Biology.

Transparency regarding the university’s day-to-day business in general was a high priority among qualities the attendees wanted the next president to share.

Other comments centered around the issue of the power balance between the president and the board, which Painter said was a common concern.

“We’ve definitely heard micromanagement come up quite a bit in written and oral comments so far,” Painter said.

As for other qualities the UW community hopes to see in the future president, attendees praised former president Nichols’ concern for the people of the university and improving relationships between staff, faculty, administration and the trustees. Many also preferred is a strong academic background paired with a prominent reputation and experience when it comes to interactions with the trustees.

“Academics is important,” said Jenke Tang, head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “I was saying some politician, but that’s only from the point of view that you have someone who has the backbone to stand up to the trustees. Someone with a national reputation may be able deter some of that.”

Ken Griffin, retired dean of Business and current professor emeritus, said clarity on the part of the trustees and their vision for UW is a vital part of the search process.

“They need to be able to convince us – you, especially – as to what this institution in their vision will be. If they can’t do that, if they’re unwilling to do that, I think anybody who’s got the qualifications that I would like to see in the president, which means being able to stand up for this institution with the power brokers… it’s going to be another sad day, and you can only have so many sad days for this institution,” Griffin said.

UW is currently led by acting President Neil Theobald, former president of Temple University in Philadelphia, who has a one-year, $340,000 contract with UW. Theobald resigned from his Temple position in 2016 amid tumult regarding a $22 million budget shortfall for merit scholarships and his dismissal of the provost, as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer. Theobald is praised for increasing Temple’s U.S. News and World Report standing, increasing research funding and doubling annual fundraising in UW news releases, and is not precluded as a candidate for UW’s presidency himself.