Uw board moves to grant itself unchecked power over reshaping the university during financial crisis – a better wyoming 9gag


The University of Wyoming’s Board of Trustees plans to grant itself sole authority to eliminate academic departments, cancel courses, and fire tenured faculty members as it sees fit. The move would further consolidate the Board’s authority over the university in the midst of a financial crisis.

The University of Wyoming faces an ongoing financial crisis as a result of the State Legislature’s decision in 2017 to cut $42 million from the university’s budget. The cuts have already led to department closures and the elimination of roughly 370 university jobs.

Last summer, the Board of Trustees stripped research funding from the university’s academic departments, consolidating the money in an account that the Trustees now oversee. The Board’s upcoming power grab appears to be a follow-up maneuver—first seize control of the money, and then seize control of the faculty and departments.

The University of Wyoming’s Board of Trustees consists of 12 governor-appointed members. Among this motley crew of wealthy, well-connected Good Ol’ Boys—you’ve got an oil tycoon, a governor’s daughter, bankers, lawyers, a real estate developer—few have higher education experience beyond obtaining a college degree.

The Board of Trustees’ incompetent recklessness was on full display in its decision last summer to seize university research funding and consolidate it into an account that it controls. The move derailed current and future research projects at the university and threatens future funding opportunities.

University faculty and administration, including President Nichols, argued forcefully against the consolidation. Departments and faculty members often receive funding for specific research projects, and the sources of that funding expect their money to be used in the agreed-upon manner. The National Science Foundation, for instance, isn’t going to grant UW further funding for specific projects if it knows the money will just be lumped together into a pot to be divvied up by Trustees.

For instance, current university regulations state that the Board can eliminate academic programs in the case of low enrollment or loss of accreditation. This typically takes place via a process that starts in the President’s office and involves review by various stakeholders.

“ The Board of Trustees may decide to reorganize, consolidate, reduce and/or discontinue an Academic Program for educational, strategic, realignment, resource allocation, budget constraints, or combinations of educational, strategic, and/or financial reasons. The Board of Trustees may take any of these actions individually or in combination with any of the other actions. ”

Similar proposals would grant the Board the ability to unilaterally eliminate individual courses or tenured faculty “in the event of insufficient institutional revenue or state imposed budget cuts,” effectively removing any check on their power or whims.

In 2013, the school experienced the trainwreck of Bob Sternberg, who the Board of Trustees hired as University President and who resigned just five controversial months later. The university then coasted for a couple years with an interim president—which was fine with the Trustees, who apparently prefer to play President themselves.

The Board’s current effort to seize power now threatens the leadership of President Laurie Nichols, who was hired in 2016. After she confronted the board over the research funding consolidation, the Board—unaccustomed to having anyone stand up to them—created a new administrative position, Chief of Staff, that assumed many of the president’s responsibilities. They filled the position with a former D.C. lobbyist widely viewed on campus as a “Yes Man” for the Trustees.

Meanwhile, the Board of Trustees is refusing to publicly release the results of a recent survey of faculty and staff about Nichols’ performance. According to documents obtained by Better Wyoming, the Board’s secrecy stems from the fact that faculty’s criticisms were aimed far more often at the Board itself than at Nichols.

It should shock no one to learn, for instance, that incoming Board President David True, co-owner of Casper-based oil conglomerate True Oil, refused to declare a conflict of interest over decisions regarding UW’s Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute, even though the EORI conducts research on behalf of the oil industry and has a mandate to benefit Wyoming producers.

If the Trustees succeed in securing the ability to unilaterally eliminate faculty and departments, it will be relationships like these, between True and the EORI, that will guide UW as it moves forward dealing with the Legislature’s budget cuts. Certainly, none of the Trustees’ pet projects, friends, or favorite departments will face the chopping block.

Between its crisis in leadership and its financial crisis—not to mention the awful morale on campus and the exodus of faculty from what’s widely viewed as a sinking ship—this is one of the most difficult periods of the University of Wyoming’s history.