Trustees to discuss making Dick McGinity University of Wyoming presidentBy Gregory Nickerson — January 15, 2014
The University of Wyoming board of trustees are hosting a meeting from January 16-18 in Laramie to discuss the possibility of offering interim president Dick McGinity a multi-year contract, among other issues. That news has caused a stir on a campus still recovering from the sudden departure of former President Robert Sternberg last November, as well as the exit of several college leaders under Sternberg’s short and tumultuous tenure.
If the trustees offer the presidency to McGinity, who has expressed interest in the job, it could delay a nationwide search for the next university leader for an indefinite period.
Trustees will seek input from faculty, student, and staff leadership on Thursday at 8 a.m. The board will then take public comment at 11:30 on Thursday and again at 11:00 a.m. on Friday. The meetings will be hosted at the 5th floor conference room at Coe Library. The recently revised agenda for the meeting can be found here.
McGinity’s appointment is not a foregone conclusion, and will depend on the outcome of trustees’ decisions made this week, and perhaps at future meetings. University officials emphasized that trustees were entering the meeting without having decided what course to take.
“There is nothing that is predetermined, really, in any fashion, other than you have a lot of people familiar with the issues,” said Chris Boswell, university vice president for Government and Community Affairs. “It’s not as if folks are walking in the door on Thursday morning with a crystal clear idea of what is going to happen in the next three days.”
Colin Keeney, a professor of English and the president of the Faculty Senate, agreed that nothing is settled just yet. “At this point it’s anybody’s guess what this will lead to,” he said.
The potential appointment of McGinity has met with mixed reception on the part of faculty. While McGinity is generally well-liked and respected on campus, some faculty feel a promotion might be coming too quickly, particularly as students and faculty are just finishing the first week of the semester.
“Everybody knows Dick McGinity is serving as the president, performing those functions, and we are fine with that,” Keeney said. “But there’s more involved here than just changing the title. There’s been no search, no interviewing process.”
However, Boswell said trustees may consider avoiding a search because the university’s reputation suffered during the dramatic departure of Robert Sternberg, which made national headlines. Boswell thinks that media coverage of the events could hurt the university’s ability to attract top-flight candidates through a search.
“A lot of people would be scratching their heads based on what’s happened at UW over the past year,” he said. “Any search consultant will tell you it puts UW at a bit of a disadvantage.”
That could make some trustees think that McGinity is the best option to lead the university for the next few years. “It’s not an uncommon view, that he is doing the job, and is there need for even more transition or even more uncertainty?” Boswell said.
Pete Jorgenson, a former university trustee and former Democratic representative from Teton County, disagreed that UW might not appeal to jobseekers. “The university has not lost its potential for nationwide credibility,” Jorgensen said in an interview with WyoFile. He is opposed to the idea of making McGinity full president right now. “Keep the title ‘interim’ and study how you do a search process,” he said.
Faculty Senate president Keeney also felt that Wyoming could attract good candidates at some point, and that there isn’t an immediate need to have a full president. “Changing the titles would probably be premature at this stage,” Keeney said. “All of us just need to buckle down and do what we are good at for a while without doing any sudden moves about changing titles.”
Several professors have written to a faculty email list and the opinion page of the Laramie Boomerang newspaper with criticisms of the idea of promoting McGinity. Some were frustrated that there has been no faculty committee organized to provide input on the selection of the next president, as required by trustee bylaws.
Other professors took aim at the trustees for serving the wishes of the legislature and special interests, primarily energy companies. That, the critics say, continues to prioritize energy and engineering research at the university.
Dick McGinity himself has said that tensions between state government and university administrators over energy and engineering issues led to the recent firings and resignations among campus leaders, going back to President Tom Buchanan.
At a meeting of the Joint Appropriations Committee held December 12, 2013, McGinity commented on the reluctance of the university to respond to legislative priorities like the NCAR computer, the Wyoming Governor’s Energy/Engineering/STEM Task Force, and the engineering school redesign. McGinity then read a prepared statement at the meeting saying the following:
“The unenthusiastic response to the wishes of the governor and the legislature led to the recent leadership changes at UW. The philosophy of the board of trustees and the management team now in place are very different from a year ago, and even six months ago. UW now has a leadership team intent on pursuing the land grant and flagship missions of the university and to growing the economy of the state and to improving the lives of its people. That’s a more explicit statement of what the university is all about than I think the previous administration would have been comfortable in saying.”
In other statements, trustee president Dave Bostrom has made clear that the trustees gave their full support to the changes in leadership and direction under Sternberg. At present, it’s not widely known what direct role, if any, the trustees, outside interests, or higher officials in Wyoming government played in asking for the resignations.
During the final weeks of Sternberg’s tenure, the university community experienced a significant amount of turmoil. The signs of faculty dissatisfaction over the present discussion of the presidential succession may have the potential to open another chapter of unrest on campus.
Former university trustee Pete Jorgensen says trustees can avoid that outcome. “All they need to do is start asking their staff some questions, and stop taking dictates from the legislature,” he said.
Faculty Senate president Keeney said he is hoping for a balanced discussion this week. He recognizes there are “thousands and thousands” of people who care about the university.
“We are all trying to do our best for the university of Wyoming,” Keeney said. “Everyone has their own idea, but that’s why we need to talk. Better to talk than to entrench.”
For more on this topic, read these WyoFile articles:
Students and faculty question spate of resignations under Sternberg, by Gregory Nickerson, November 6, 2013 Robert Sternberg resigns as University of Wyoming president, by Gregory Nickerson, November 15, 2013 Open or Closed Search: Picking the next University of Wyoming president, by Gregory Nickerson, December 3, 2013
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