Past UW leaders built a solid foundation for university’s future
Guest Column by Carol Frost
– December 31, 2013
“Being president of a university is no way for an adult to make a living.” So said Yale’s A. Bartlett Giamatti, who retired from academic administration and became major league baseball commissioner.
Running a university well is very hard work. It entails balancing a vast, complex array of duties that include administering the academic and operational affairs of the university, working with the governing board, and guaranteeing sound budget management. University leaders must instill purpose and meaning into the life of the institution and present its public face in the community and beyond. All of this must be accomplished transparently and collaboratively, with grace and diplomacy.
As 2013 draws to a close, I offer a tribute to two University of Wyoming leaders who exemplified the attributes of such academic administrators: former President Tom Buchanan and former Provost Myron Allen. These two individuals devoted their entire careers to UW, the majority to university leadership. Both share a deep commitment to higher education, an understanding of the institution and its relationship to the state, and a fundamental belief in shared governance. Both individuals embody the intellectual rigor, integrity, and fortitude needed to lead a dynamic and complex organization that is the modern public research university. Thanks to their efforts, UW has been a strong institution, with a clear mission to create and share knowledge and to serve the state.
For them leadership was not about power or ego. Leadership was demonstrated in devotion to the success of the group. They understood that a leader’s effectiveness depends upon motivating others to share in developing and implementing a vision for the university. Tom and Myron modeled a deliberate approach to solving problems: first, seek to understand others’ points of view, identify the principles that apply, consider the resource implications, develop and present alternatives, then choose a solution collaboratively. Two of their accomplishments are particularly significant:
- President Buchanan and Provost Allen led a strategic planning process built on broad institutional participation, including identification of six major areas of distinction relevant to the needs of the state, and a transparent system of annual, public reporting to track progress and resource allocation.
- Second, they instituted a faculty position management system to align faculty positions with statewide needs, to promote transparency in faculty position budgeting, and to provide incentives for rigorous reappointment and tenure decisions.
UW’s planning documents constitute a road map that promotes broad-based excellence in teaching, research, and service to the state. The faculty position management system allows the university to reallocate faculty positions to areas of distinction and address state priorities. For example, under Tom Buchanan and Myron Allen, 16 faculty positions were added in energy resources, including faculty in the College of Engineering and Applied Science, Arts and Sciences, Business, Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Law. Also during that time, UW internally reallocated faculty positions to build an interdisciplinary group of two dozen computational scientists to support the NCAR-UW partnership.
UW’s achievements during Tom Buchanan and Myron Allen’s leadership defy enumeration, but below are prominent examples that illustrate their 1) commitment to the education and welfare of Wyoming’s people, and 2) commitment to Wyoming’s businesses.
1. Commitment to the education and welfare of Wyoming’s people
- UW administrators helped shape legislation that resulted in the Hathaway Scholarship Program, a program that with legislative support encourages sound preparation for college through a system of graduated scholarship awards for use at UW and Wyoming’s community colleges.
- President Buchanan and Provost Allen also oversaw implementation of the Endowment for Excellence in Higher Education, through which UW has hired renowned faculty with expertise related to reclamation, wildlife and livestock diseases, American Indian Studies, math and science education, literacy, and other areas important to the university’s strategic plan and to the state.
- Together with Wyoming’s governor, UW developed a plan to bring financial stability to its Family Practice Residency Centers in Casper and Cheyenne. These centers now train most of the primary-care physicians for Wyoming communities and serve as the state’s largest providers of safety-net medical care.
- During the Buchanan presidency, UW established major new connections with Wyoming community colleges, including new facilities at Casper College, Central Wyoming College, and Sheridan College and plans for new facilities shared with Laramie County Community College.
- UW’s Synergy Program won the nationally prestigious Hesburgh Award for its innovative programs promoting the success of academically at-risk students.
- UW established the Cheney International Center and, through the Cheney family’s generosity, vastly increased financial support for UW students to include study abroad as part of their UW education.
- UW developed and allocated permanent funding to an Advanced Research Computing Center, providing UW students with access to state-of-the-art facilities and research opportunities in high-performance scientific computing and supercomputing.
- Under Provost Allen, UW’s Office of Academic Affairs launched an initiative to develop streamlined requirements for the bachelor’s degree, a reform that will especially benefit transfer students.
2. Commitment to Wyoming’s businesses
- Provost Allen developed the plan for an interdisciplinary School of Energy Resources with the support of the Governor and Legislature. The school involves faculty appointments in five of UW’s seven colleges, several cross-disciplinary research centers, a statewide outreach program, and a new baccalaureate degree program. The school is housed in the Energy Innovation Center, constructed with industry gifts and state matching funds.
- UW’s Office of Academic Affairs and the College of Engineering and Applied Science reinstated the baccalaureate program in Petroleum Engineering, dropped in 1998 under a previous administration. Since reinstatement, UW has added six faculty positions in Petroleum Engineering as well as allied faculty members in the Earth sciences and mathematics.
- UW’s Mechanical Engineering Department launched an innovative bachelor’s degree program in Energy Systems Engineering.
- UW partnered with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to establish the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center in southeast Wyoming.
- UW negotiated contracts with General Electric for development of a coal gasification research facility. Although UW was committed to this project, a changing economic climate led GE to suspend it.
- UW founded the Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center, including permanent staff to establish an interdisciplinary GIS center that supports state agencies, local governments, industries, and others with spatial data and information about the state and its natural resources.
- UW developed a plan for the Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute that led to greatly increased Wyoming legislative funding for this entity devoted to assisting the state’s petroleum industry.
- Under President Buchanan’s leadership, UW opened the Wyoming Technology Business Center, a successful business incubator. UW is now involved in discussions about similar incubators in Casper and Gillette.
The next president and provost of the University of Wyoming will face a complex set of competing interests, challenges, and demands. They will benefit, to use a well-worn but apt metaphor, from “standing on the shoulders of giants,” by building upon UW’s accomplishments during President Buchanan and Provost Allen’s tenure. The university best fulfills its purpose under deliberate and transparent leadership.
— Carol Frost is a Professor of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Wyoming. Frost joined the Department of Geology and Geophysics at UW in 1983 after receiving her Ph.D. in Earth Sciences at Cambridge University. Frost’s administrative appointments include Founding Director of the School of Energy Resources (2006-2007), Associate Vice President for Research and Economic Development (2008-2010), Vice President for Special Projects (2010-2012), and Associate Provost (2012-2013).
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