University of Wyoming presidential candidate Laurie Nichols proposed solutions to ongoing campus worries of lagging salaries and the perception of energy industry influence during a public forum Wednesday. The provost from South Dakota State University also identified a lack of planning as a major topic of discussion at UW.
“My sense is maybe a little bit is the campus doesn’t know where it is heading right now,” Nichols said. “If that is the case, it is really quite fixable. You need a really good plan pulled together.”
UW Provost David Jones told WyoFile that the university’s last strategic plan ended in 2013. The campus has spent about two years in planning “limbo,” he said. The slowdown in planning began with former president Robert Sternberg’s replacement of former provost Myron Allen with Dick McGinity, and Sternberg’s own resignation in Nov. 2013.
While campus leaders nearly completed a new strategic plan this fall under two-year president Dick McGinity, they’ve held off on final approval until UW’s next president can add input. Nichols said a new plan could generate “confidence and enthusiasm. … That’s really what will take this university to the next level,” she said.
In addition to planning, Nichols said she recognizes low pay as a major issue on campus. Separately, UW vice president for administration Bill Mai told lawmakers on the Joint Appropriations Committee that UW “flat out can’t recruit” for some staff positions because of low compensation.
UW compensation is about 17 percent below that of other comparable state employees, Mai said. Faculty pay is about 11 percent below market paid by similar universities. Still, Gov. Matt Mead’s budget for 2017-2018 proposes a 5 percent decrease to UW’s block grant, with no provision for raises.
Nichols recommended UW put salary compensation on the “front burner” and develop a 10-year plan for salary increases to take to lawmakers. At SDSU, Nichols said she helped win legislative approval for an 18 percent merit-based salary increase over three years.
“First and foremost, great universities are great people, then you need the facilities to support it,” Nichols said. That echoes a common refrain that UW needs to put people before buildings, one that’s been heard since before the departure of president Tom Buchanan in 2013.
As for concerns about mineral industry influence on UW’s vision and direction, Nichols said energy research and fundraising partnerships are part of the land-grant mission.
“I don’t think you put big energy companies aside, because that is part of who you are,” Nichols said, “but I say that knowing they are not all of your state.”
She advised also attending to other constituencies such as agriculture, tourism, and underserved populations like that at the Wind River Indian Reservation.
That remark met the approval of Janice Harris, a retired professor of English. “I appreciated [Nichols] recognizing the state is made up of many interests,” Harris said.
Nichols described herself as having grown up in a South Dakota farming family. Her academic specialty is human development and family studies. During her career she served as a department head, provost, and interim president.
Nichols has worked at SDSU, University of Idaho, and Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Click here to read her CV and stream her remarks from Wednesday.
The third and final presidential candidate campus visit will be held on Monday, Dec. 14 with Jeremy Haefner, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Henrietta, N.Y. Click here for the schedule.
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