Voters will decide: Should UW have non-resident trustees?
By Gregory Nickerson
— October 28, 2014
When Wyoming voters go to the polls Nov. 4, they will consider a proposed amendment to the constitution asking whether out-of-state residents should be allowed to serve on the University of Wyoming board of trustees.
Proponents say it would open up the prospective trustee pool to non-Wyoming residents with connections to the university. That could help represent the interests of alumni who have left the state.
“I think it is an effort to enhance the board and bring some outside perspective,” said Sen. Tony Ross (R-Cheyenne), who first proposed the ballot initiative in 2013. “We tend to be rather provincial in Wyoming.”
Opponents say it is a measure seeking to change the constitution without meeting a pressing need. Former trustee Ann Rochelle said the state should consider opening up trustee seats so students or faculty could be voting members, rather than looking to create spots for out-of-state trustees.
“Would adding a voting faculty member as other state colleges be the better approach?” Rochelle said. “I don’t see what’s broken and I don’t see the clear justification when it is a constitutional amendment and when there are other groups that have been asking to be board members. Should they be part of the discussion too?”
According to a 2010 survey of the Association of Governing Boards, 50.3 percent of public colleges and universities nationwide include at least one student as a voting member of the board of trustees.
Boards included a faculty member as a voting trustee at 13.3 percent of public institutions. At least one staff member served as a voting trustee at 7.2 percent of public colleges and universities.
Meanwhile, almost all public universities in states neighboring Wyoming have boards made up entirely of residents in those states. That includes the Montana State University system, the Colorado State University system, and the universities of Colorado, Nebraska and Utah. The Colorado School of Mines is an exception, having one out-of-state trustee — a Chevron executive from Houston — on its seven-member board.
Going further afield, top ranked public schools like the University of Michigan and engineering powerhouse Texas A&M also had boards made up of in-state residents.
“What is it that non-residents bring to the table to justify a constitutional amendment?” Rochelle said. “If the goal is to get CEOs of businesses (on the board of trustees), we have some great CEO residents of Wyoming. … I am truly ambivalent on this issue and I am struggling with ‘why’ I am asked to vote ‘yes’ for a constitutional amendment, when I have not heard a clearly-enunciated reason for the change and a demonstration of a problem to be corrected.”
Rochelle also noted that land-grant institutions were created under the Morrill Act primarily to serve the needs of the state — not non-Wyoming alumni or other constituencies. “Do out of-state-people know the state?“ she asked.
Origin of the ballot measure
The measure comes from a 2013 legislative resolution and bill proposed by Sen. Ross. If it were to pass, the board of trustees would increase in size from its current 12 members to 13, and the governor would have the option of choosing at least 20 percent of the board (two trustees) from outside Wyoming.
“The (University of Wyoming) Foundation board does not have a resident requirement, and through it I became quite acquainted with a number of very loyal members of the foundation board who are not residents but have a lot to offer to the university,” Ross said. “It would be wise to tap into some of that national presence to help UW advance nationally and globally.”
More than half of University of Wyoming alumni live out of state, he said.
Though Ross said he didn’t have anyone specific in mind as a prospective trustee, he mentioned UW Foundation trustees Eric Marsh and Greg Hill, two members of the UW engineering task force, as examples of the kind of people who might be attracted as an out-of-state trustee. Hill, a UW donor and executive for Hess Oil, may already be eligible as a university trustee through his residence in Jackson.
University spokesman Chris Boswell says the ballot measure did not originate at the university. “This is something that Sen. Ross asked (former) President Buchanan about, if he had any objections to it,” Boswell said. “He did not. This wasn’t something developed as a university initiative.”
University trustees have not taken an official position on the proposed amendment, though they discussed it at a recent meeting.
“There was support among trustees for the amendment but they didn’t think it was appropriate to take a position as a board,” Boswell said.
At least one former trustee agreed with Ross’ premise. “The advantage of having out-of-state trustees in the mix is to give the governor a broader pool of potential candidates,” said former trustee Rita Meyer.
Other former trustees had reservations about amending the constitution for this purpose.
“I think it’s a horrible idea,” said Pete Jorgensen, a former trustee from Jackson. He says the current board is dysfunctional with many decisions being made by just a few dominant members. “I would hesitate to add any outside influence.”
Ross said he’s heard only one, minor complaint.
“The only drawback, or negatives that I have heard about it is ‘don’t we have good enough people in state of Wyoming?’” Ross said. “The answer to that is yes, but adding one or two new members to a board I think would only enhance the board, and certainly the expertise they would bring to the board would be helpful. If it is contrary to the benefit of the state of Wyoming and the university I think the board and the senate can vote them down. I don’t see it as a big problem.”
“This ballot initiative doesn’t have a constituency,” Ross added. “There is no money being spent on it.”
Faculty and student representatives showed tentative support for the measure. Faculty Senate president and education professor Ed Janak says his group hasn’t addressed the issue in any official way, but he has seen a mix of strong opinions for and against the idea. “I do not want to give a statement representing that body,” he said.
At the same time, Janak worried about the priorities of non-Wyoming trustees. “The humanities and liberal arts in particular are taking a back seat at UW in ways that will prove to be counterproductive to the mission of the university, and the well-being of the state, in the long term,” he said. “Bringing in two more members of industries that do not understand this could harm UW.”
“Personally, I acknowledge the concern some folks have about who might get nominated to serve,” Janak said. “I believe that having outside opinions from those somewhat removed from the immediate political climate of the state could be a strength, and thus am personally in favor of the amendment.”
Ahmed Balogun, a senior mechanical engineering major from Abuja, Nigeria, and president of the Associated Students of the University of Wyoming, called the measure “a good initiative that would open up room for diverse experiences among the trustees.”
Janak said he would like faculty and staff representatives to be named ex-officio members of the trustees, which would enable them to participate as non-voting observers in executive sessions. Currently the student representative from ASUW is allowed to observe executive sessions, while faculty and staff presidents are not.
While Janak said that faculty had pressed for a voting position on the trustees board in the past, that was not a unanimous view, and many considered it more politically expeditious to seek ex-officio status instead.
Current qualifications of trustees
Wyoming statute mandates that the university trustees be selected from the seven different judicial districts in the state, with no two trustees coming from the same county. There is no stipulation that trustees be alumni of the university. No more than seven trustees may be members of the same political party, a law which received attention after a Casper Star-Tribune article noted it was not being followed.
Statute specifically states that no faculty member may serve on the board of trustees, though that could be changed through legislative process. By contrast, voters must pass a statewide referendum to change the constitutional provision that all university trustees must be eligible to vote in Wyoming. The relevant section is found in Article 6 Section 15 of the Wyoming constitution:
“No person except a qualified elector shall be elected or appointed to any civil or military office in the state.”
The proposed constitutional amendment adds language to Article 7 section 17 of the constitution to remove the restriction that appointees to the civil office of university trustee (and no other office) must be a qualified elector — a resident eligible voter — in Wyoming.
The proposed new language would state:
“Not more than twenty percent (20%) of the appointed trustees may be nonresidents of the state, notwithstanding the provisions of Article 6, Section 15 of this Constitution.”
Other ways out of state interests are represented at UW
Many boards related to UW have representation from people who live out-of-state. Ten of the 13 UW Foundation board members are from outside Wyoming, including the board chairman Scott Neu, a UW alum who lives in Georgia.
A number of advisory boards have representation from out-of-state. The College of Engineering has an advisory board made up largely from non-Wyoming members. Twenty-three out of 42 members of the College of Business advisory board are from out of state.
Other university boards have higher representation from Wyoming residents. Only six out of 24 members of College of Agriculture advisory board are from out of state. Twelve out of 16 members of the Haub School advisory board are from Wyoming.
Residence status was not listed for College of arts and sciences board of visitors.
What Wyomingites think
While the measure hasn’t been debated significantly by the general public, a number of media outlets have taken a stand on the ballot measure. None of the newspapers mentioned below has contemplated adding faculty or students as voting trustees, according to a WyoFile search.
The Laramie Boomerang editorial board came out in favor of the amendment. “Primarily because it opens the door to even more accomplished individuals who could bring substantial expertise to UW. Many UW alumni have gone on to great success in various fields, but no longer are Wyoming residents. Under the current rule, none of them could be eligible to serve as a trustee.”
“One advantage to broadening the pool of potential trustee candidates is that it would serve to strengthen the overall competitiveness of UW graduates. These young men and women will be competing globally for professional advancement and growth. Anything that broadens the expertise on the board of trustees will increase the stature and respect for the university nationwide, and that can only add to the value of a diploma from UW.”
The Casper Star-Tribune also came out in favor. “The state’s flagship institution has much to gain from adding the two board positions and nothing to lose. … It’s worth adding that sometimes such graduates would be valuable additions from a fundraising perspective, too. At the moment, such graduates could live 65 miles away in Fort Collins, Colorado, and that would eliminate them from consideration as a board member.”
Jorgensen said he disagrees with the idea of adding a trustee member because of his or her role as a donor to the university, saying the UW Foundation board is a better fit for such people. “Why should we bring in people who would be picked for their fundraising ability rather than their knowledge of university management?” he said. “That’s why the foundation is there.”
The Riverton Ranger advised voters to learn about the amendment and ask candidates questions. “Like several other pieces of the Wyoming Constitution, this requirement reflects the past, when there were fears that out-of-state meddlers would try to get their fingers into the state’s only university and take advantage of our inexperienced university and government leadership. Today, however, Constitutional Amendment A is intended to recognize that there might be concerned citizens with ties to the university who would be of useful service to UW if they sat among the trustees. That seems a fair proposition.”
The Casper Star-Tribune published a report by Joan Barron with quotes from Rep. Mike Madden (R-Buffalo) and UW history professor Phil Roberts speaking against the amendment. The Wyoming Tribune Eagle published a report in which Sen. Kermit Brown (R-Laramie) and Sen. Ross supported the amendment (they both sponsored it) while Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) opposed it.
Many trustee changes ahead in 2015
Just last week, trustee Warren Lauer of Laramie passed away, leaving a vacancy that will have to be filled.
Four trustees’ terms will expire in 2015: Dick Davis, Betty Fear, Brad Mead, and Howard Willson. (Should Gov. Matt Mead win reelection, his brother Brad Mead, appointed in 2009 by then Gov. Freudenthal, could not be reappointed due to rules against nepotism.)
If the constitutional amendment passes, the board would increase from 12 to 13 members. That means next year’s slate of trustees could have six new members out of 13: one to replace Warren Lauer, four to replace people whose terms are expiring, and one to raise the total to 13.
The next cycle of appointments will also have the potential to reset the party balance of the board, which currently is at nine Republicans and two Democrats, according to voter registration records reviewed by the Casper Star-Tribune. Statute says that only seven trustees may be from one party.
Currently, trustee party affiliation is only tracked at the time of the trustees appointment. That means a trustee appointed while a member of one party can switch to the other party. That’s apparently what happened with at least two trustees, since the only three Democrats on the board as of last month were Lauer, Larry Gubbels of Douglas, and Wava Tully of Lusk.
“There are some 200 appointments the governor has to make and the senate has to approve, and I don’t think there was an unbalance at the time we approved the appointments,” Sen. Ross said.
The new slate of trustees isn’t the only upcoming change in the leadership at the university. A number of administrators, including the president, the vice president for academic affairs, and a number of deans, are on interim status.
The trustee appointments made by the gubernatorial candidate elected this November will have a significant influence over the future of the university, which is attempting to rebuild after several years of administrative upheaval.
“I think it gives the governor a terrific opportunity to reshape this board without going out of state,” Jorgensen said.
Party affiliation as of September 2014.David F. Palmerlee (R-Buffalo) Appointed 2005; reappointed 2011; term expires 2017 President — Elected May 2014 John MacPherson (R-Saratoga) Appointed 2011; term expires 2017 Vice President — Elected May 2014 Dave True (R-Casper) Appointed 2013; term expires 2019 Treasurer — Elected May 2014 Jeffrey S. Marsh (R-Torrington) Appointed 2011; term expires 2017 Secretary — Elected May 2014 Dave Bostrom (R-Worland) Appointed 2007; reappointed 2013; term expires 2019 Richard M. Davis, Jr. (R-Sheridan) 2003; reappointed 2009; term expires 2015 Betty Fear (R-Big Piney) Appointed 2007 to complete term expiring 2009; Reappointed 2009; term expires 2015 Larry Gubbels (D-Douglas) Appointed 2013; term expires 2019 Warren Lauer (D-Laramie) Appointed 2005; reappointed 2011; term expires 2017 (deceased) Brad Mead (R-Jackson) Appointed 2009; term expires 2015 Wava Tully (D-Lusk) Appointed 2013; term expires 2019 Howard T. Willson, M.D. (R-Thermopolis) Appointed 2003; reappointed 2009; term expires 2015 Update: This story has been corrected to reflect that faculty and staff have historically been allowed to participate in trustee meetings without voting, though they are not permitted to observe executive sessions.
— Gregory Nickerson is the government and policy reporter for WyoFile. He writes the Capitol Beat blog. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on twitter @GregNickersonWY.
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