By Seth Klamann
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CASPER — Representatives from the University of Wyoming’s student government proposed resolutions Tuesday night praising departing UW President Laurie Nichols and criticizing the board of trustees who decided not to renew her contract.
“(The board of trustees has) acted in a manner inconsistent with the values of the (Associated Students of the University of Wyoming),” states the latter resolution, which was supported by nine members of the student government, “and ... University of Wyoming students, staff, and faculty have expressed growing dissatisfaction with many of the recent BOT decisions.”
That piece of legislation also calls for the members of the board to be elected, rather than the current law that they be appointed by the governor. The resolution would also establish a survey to “evaluate and collect student opinions on the Board of Trustees.” The members of the Associated Students of the University of Wyoming will debate the two resolutions next Tuesday, ASUW President Alex Mulhall said Wednesday.
The student government’s resolutions are the first official steps taken by a UW group since the university announced March 25 that Nichols’ contract would be allowed to expire June 30 without a renewal. The announcement was met with widespread shock across the university, with faculty, staff and student leaders all saying they were unaware that the board had decided to demote Nichols, who will stay on as a faculty member through at least the 2019-20 school year.
Even Nichols said she was unaware of what happened. In her sole interview since the announcement, she told Wyoming Public Media’s Bob Beck that she was surprised when she was told she wouldn’t be continuing as president. She had expected to be offered another three-year contract.
Very little information has been released about the decision. The board, through its president Dave True, has consistently refused to offer details. Records obtained and reviewed by the Star-Tribune show that True, plus three other board leaders, flew to Arizona on the trustees’ private plane in mid-March, a day after Nichols arrived there for a vacation. They stayed only 90 minutes in Arizona, arriving at an airport a short drive from a condo that Nichols owns with her husband.
The lack of information has ignited calls for transparency. Mulhall told the trustees at their board meeting two weeks ago that students and staff should be integrated into the decision-making processes of the university. She urged the board to be transparent going forward.
Mulhall is one of 21 members of ASUW who have signed on to support the resolution praising Nichols. The legislation notes that Nichols took over the university “during a time of financial difficulty” at UW and that she “has successfully led UW through these difficulties and uncertainties.”
The resolution praises Nichols’ support of the university’s sexual assault awareness campaign, her hiring of a chief diversity officer and her work to create UW’s strategic plan. The board’s decision not to renew Nichols’ contract prompted “immense sadness” from the ASUW.
The second resolution, which has two authors and seven co-sponsors, calls for changes as a result of the Nichols decision. It calls for the 12 members of the board to be elected by different groups across the state. Nine members would be elected by Wyoming residents, while the remaining three would each be elected by the UW community: one by staff, one by faculty and one by the student body.
On Wednesday, True said he wasn’t aware of the resolutions. He declined to comment on them or on the prospect of trustees being elected. He said he wasn’t “at liberty” to discuss why other parts of campus weren’t involved in the decision not to renew Nichols’ contract.
The resolution would also “create and market a survey to University of Wyoming students to evaluate and collect student opinions” on the board and the “current system of appointment.”
Mulhall, who said she had spoken with True but had been given no clarity on why Nichols’ contract had not been renewed, said she did not yet have an opinion on the board resolution.
“I think it is worth a conversation,” she said. “We’ll definitely bring it up. I think a few different institutions employ this. I think it’s a good conversation starter.”
In a statement to the Star-Tribunelast week, the spokeswoman for Gov. Mark Gordon said the governor “does not have anything to add at this time” on the board’s decision not to renew Nichols’ contract.
“Governor Gordon considers the president position very important, and he will be attentive to the hiring process going forward,” his spokeswoman, Rachel Girt, said in an email. Gordon is a nonvoting member of the board, but as governor, he fills vacancies on the governing body.
Mulhall said she was “looking forward” to drawing attention to how trustees are placed on the governing body of the state’s only four-year public university.
“Some transparency can come out because of it,” she said.