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UW, Nichols argue over whether investigation was proper

RIVERTON — A court filing made Friday, Dec. 20 from the University of Wyoming disputes the characterization from former UW President Laurie Nichols’s attorney that suggests an alleged investigation into Nichols’s behavior occurred “directly contrary to the university’s own regulations.”

The filing comes in a court dispute over whether those supposed investigatory records, and other documentation related to Nichols’s departure as UW president, constitute public records under Wyoming law.

A September news report from the Casper Star-Tribune and Wyofile indicated that UW quietly investigated Nichols before announcing in March that her tenure as president would end in 2019.

UW has not confirmed the details of that report, but comments made at an October court hearing by an attorney UW seemed to indicate that such an investigation had, in fact, occurred.

Laramie attorney Megan Overmann Goetz, who’s representing Nichols, raised the issue in a Dec. 10 filing.

“Nichols was never notified of an investigation, interviews or any other undertaking about her or her performance as president of the university,” Goetz wrote. “If people were interviewed about Nichols, she does not know who or when or what was said. Certainly, Nichols was never given an opportunity to respond. This is a significant fact. If in fact, such an ‘investigation’ occurred, this is directly contrary to the university’s own regulations.”

Attorney Robert Jarosh, who’s representing UW, disputed that.

The “argument related to Dr. Nichols’ bald assertion that university regulations may have been violated has no factual or legal support, and has no relevance to any of the issues currently pending before the court,” Jarosh wrote.

Attorney Bruce Moats, who’s representing Wyoming news organizations that are seeking the release of the disputed records, said that Goetz’s assertion only heightens the need to have the documents released.

“The public has a great and legitimate interest in how the trustees conducted themselves in not renewing Nichols’s contract,” Moats wrote. “The release of the information will let the public know whether this allegation that the trustees violated their own polices has merit or not.”

On Friday, the South Dakota Board of Regents announced that Nichols will become the permanent president of Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota.

Nichols has helmed that university on an interim basis since leaving Laramie in June.

“President Nichols has been a strong and steady hand at Black Hills State since we asked her to take an interim appointment last July,” South Dakota Regent Joan Wink said in a Friday press release. “It became apparent to search committee members that our best candidate was right here, living in Spearfish and working at Black Hills State University. Laurie Nichols is highly respected by her peers and brings with her many years of prior experience in the South Dakota public higher education system. She has been doing a tremendous job as the interim president.”

Shortly before Nichols left UW, she told the Laramie Boomerang in June that she had no interest in taking the Spearfish job permanently.

“I told (the regents) that right away,” she said. “That was part of our first conversation. They gave me the option to be a candidate, and I told them no. And I said that because I really feel like you have a totally different search when the interim is an active candidate.”