Gov. Gordon: UW Trustees Must Conduct ‘Inclusive’, ‘Thoughtful’ President Search
Gov. Mark Gordon urged the University of Wyoming trustees in a letter Thursday to conduct an inclusive and thoughtful search for a new president because the state's only public four-year university has suffered "black eyes" from the departures of its last two presidents.
"So, I wanted to take this opportunity — before the next search for a president begins — to articulate my hopes for the University of Wyoming as well as my expectations for the process," Gordon wrote. "My desire is that this process will ultimately result in a durable and auspicious presidency and an ensuing bright pathway forward for our flagship educational institution."
Gordon's communications director Michael Pearlman said the governor was traveling Thursday and could not be reached for comment.
UW Board Chairman Dave True said the process will be transparent. "At least the structure and the intent of the board is very consistent with the governor’s comment; it is going to be an open process."
The board will keep confident the names of all applicants until the short list of finalists is complete, True said. The board will then release their information to the public, he said.
True did not respond to specific leadership-related issues Gordon raised:
- The high turnover of presidents in recent years.
- The need to do better in hiring and retaining presidents.
- UW's apparent lack of direction.
- The need to clarify the university's mission.
- The public's loss of confidence in UW's leadership.
- The concern that naming an apparent insider as president will further erode the public's confidence.
Gordon wrote universities sometimes have a high turnover in leadership, but that can cause immediate and long-term problems.
"I need not remind you of the criticisms that have followed the departures of President (Robert) Sternberg and more recently President (Laurie) Nichols," he wrote. "Struggles among trustees, the administration, faculty, and other interested parties over how, who, how much, where, what, and to what end our university exists are to be expected. However, today, I submit these disputes have reached a volume that can only degrade the confidence students, faculty, and the people of Wyoming have in their lone public university."
Wyoming residents' perceptions of what UW should be -- a top engineering school, a top agriculture school, a research center and so forth -- further complicate matters, he wrote. "Combine the variety of these opinions with the black eyes that have come from the dismissal of President Sternberg and the exit of President Nichols and it is not surprising that citizens from around the state have shared their concerns about our university being adrift."
Sternberg left after four months on the job in 2013, and his tenure was marked by resignations of numerous university officials.
The next president was Dick McGinty, who served from 2014 to 2016, and the trustees hired Nichols in late 2015 to replace him.
In March, the trustees voted to not renew her contract, which drew sharp criticisms. News organizations sued UW for not making public the reasons for Nichols' contract cancelation, and the university has responded saying it did not violate the law by keeping its records secret.
In May, the trustees announced the appointment of Vice President for Finance and Administration Neil Theobald as the interim president.
In late July, the university announced a 16-person committee to search for presidential candidates and eventually forward a list of 12 to the trustees for their consideration.
Gordon cautioned the trustees to not give into the temptation to appoint a "familiar face" as president, but did not name anyone specifically.
Wyoming residents will view an "'obvious'" or "expected choice" as unsound because the new administration will be hobbled before it gets started, he wrote. "It need not be undermined further by insinuation or doubt. I fear that any action which could be viewed as engineered will be profoundly disappointing to the University community and beyond."
Gordon wrote that he believes the trustees will do the right thing.
"Anything worth doing is worth doing right," he wrote. "This is not the time for haste. It is the time to demonstrate vision and capacity."