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UW acting president vows more faculty investments

LARAMIE — During a Thursday State of the University address, acting University of Wyoming President Neil Theobald said the university will work to increase the number of endowed chair positions to 100, roughly doubling the current number.

In September, the university’s Board of Trustees signed off on a plan to spend $1.3 million, with half coming from donations, to create a permanent endowment to hire 20 new faculty by the end of 2019.

According to documents from the September trustees meeting, UW is looking to spend that funding to hire three endowed faculty in humanities/social sciences, three faculty in the sciences, six in engineering, four in agriculture and three in health sciences.

Theobald said administrators have also tasked the UW Foundation with raising $10 million in donations to be able to recruit new faculty, including raising the number of endowed chairs.

“It’s aggressive, but we’re setting the bar high,” he said. “Our goal is a big one, but it would be transformational.”

The Legislature will be asked to contribute $10 million to match the foundation’s efforts.

Theobald did not announce a timeframe for that goal to be achieved.

A reinvestment in UW faculty was a key subject of Theobald address.

After his speech, psychology professor Narina Nunez urged Old Main to become more efficient in supporting the needs of the faculty that are already at UW.

“It feels like when things go to Old Main, they go into a black hole and we don’t see them for six months,” Nunez said. “We’ve had a lot of problems in the last few years with hiring faculty in a timely manner, buying research equipment and buying software. Sometimes, it takes six months to go through legal to get stuff for our research.”

Theobald said he agreed with Nunez that UW operates in a “highly bureaucratic manner” that needs to be decentralized.

“You would be amazed at the number of things I approve that it makes no sense for me to be approving,” Theobald said.

The acting president said UW does need to work to streamline that decision-making.

Despite faculty and staff frustrations with UW’s new financial management system, WyoCloud, Theobald said WyoCloud should eventually make the school’s approval process more efficient.

During the State of the University address, Theobald also set a goal of doubling the percentage of students who graduate on time.

During his time at Indiana University and Temple University, Theobald put a focus on the universities’ four-year graduation rates, which rose to above 50% at both institutions during his tenure there.

As of January 2018, UW had a four-year graduation rate of 31 percent.

“When a student needs a ninth semester to finish a degree, it often means they incur more debt,” Theobald said Thursday. “Student debt limits our alumni’s ability to start a business, buy a house or achieve other important goals.”

In the coming years, Theobald announced UW will also ”renew” nine major buildings on campus: the Arts and Science Building, the Agriculture Building, the Education Building, the Bureau of Mines Building, the Engineering Building, the Physical Science Building, the Biological Sciences Building, the Aven Nelson Building and Merica Hall.

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