Laurie Nichols took the position of University of Wyoming president Monday, allowing Dick McGinity to step back from his leadership position and reflect on his accomplishments.
After former UW President Bob Sternberg resigned amid controversy in November 2013, Interim Provost McGinity — who was appointed to that position in August 2013 — took the role of interim president. The UW Board of Trustees appointed McGinity the 25th president on Jan. 16, 2014.
“It was both opportunity and duty,” he said. “To have an opportunity to really make a difference to a state and an institution that I really have come to love — to have that opportunity and to be trusted to take that on is humbling and it’s exciting.
“I couldn’t possibly turn it down.”
Bill Gern, vice president for research and economic development, has worked with six presidents since starting his job more than two decades ago, but McGinity’s term was different than any others
“He was never expecting to be the president,” Gern said. “He never applied to be president. The presidency came upon him because of where he was.”
UW Board of Trustee President John MacPherson was on the board when McGinity was appointed.
“Because he was the provost, he was right there on the spot, and it was a natural move for him to move up to the position,” he said. “We were lucky to have him for the time that we did. The university is in a much better place today.”
McGinity also realized the reality at the time — a presidential search was not the right answer.
“Three years ago, it would have been really, really difficult to launch a search and find a really first-rate president,” he said.
After taking the position, McGinity started with the basics, taking things as they came while keeping several broad goals on the horizon.
“First, do not inflect any additional trauma on the institution,” he said. “That was number one.”
Next was really figuring out the role of a president at a major institution. While he had occupied the Bill Daniels Chair of Business Ethics in the College of Business since 2007, stepping from faculty member to president in less than a year was a remarkable leap in responsibility.
“I needed to understand how the university operated internally and how it interacted with the rest of the state externally,” he said.
Making key hires was a pressing matter — four colleges needed deans. Searches quickly started, but McGinity was skeptical in finding top deans considering UW’s reputation immediately after Sternberg’s resignation.
“I would not have bet that we would get four top deans,” he said. “But the results speak for themselves. It helped the people, the individuals in the university, believe progress was being made, and that made other things possible.”
A new fiscal system is currently being implemented, allowing UW officials to easily track and allocate funds across the entire university instead of working with multiple systems and stacks of paperwork. McGinity said this was a priority.
“Here we are — a $600 million or sometimes $700 million a year institution,” he said. “An institution spending that kind of money, money that belongs to the people of Wyoming, every year without an institution-wide accounting and control system — that just doesn’t compute.”
In fact, McGinity also regards the system as one of his largest regrets during his tie in office.
“As a president, you can’t do anything yourself — you’re working with other people — but I wish (we), together, could have made more progress more quickly on the fiscal system,” he said.
A university needs a broad path to follow — goals that can be achieved in coming years — not weeks, months or semesters. McGinity said he hoped some of those goals were laid out in a plan during his time in office.
“I wish we could have made more progress on a strategic planning process,” he said. “I’m talking about academic and research programs, facilities necessary and a financial plan that lays out the attraction of financial resources and their deployment in the university to accomplish that plan.”
However, Nichols has had experience in making similar plans during her time as provost at South Dakota State University, and McGinity said he has much confidence in her in the future.
“The new president and the new provost are going to have the luxury of dealing with a really experienced set of vice presidents and superior deans, so I’m very excited to watch the progress I suspect to happen.”
However, Nichols is coming in at a difficult time for the university, which McGinity did not expect a year ago.
“A little over a year ago, when I recommended to the trustees they launch a search — I did that because I thought the university had regained our footing compared to three years ago and that there were a number of projects that had gotten underway that would be long-term in implementations,” he said.
The trustees have also taken a larger role since McGinity took office, Trustee Dave Palmerlee said.
“Dick embraced an informed and engaged Board of Trustees, which made the trustees more effective than before,” he said.
Regardless of his many accomplishments, Trustee Dave Bostrom said the most important contribution McGinity made cannot be judged by numbers.
“He brought stability and confidence to the campus at a time we were in a state of flux,” he said. “His great contribution has been his calm approach to all the issues to the university. He handled them in a calm way and brought the campus together. He’s a good man who’s done good things in what started in difficult times.”
While he plans to return to the College of Business’s faculty next academic year, he has a few other goals after completing his term.
“The first thing I need to do is spend some time with my family, who’ve I’ve been neglecting for three years,” he said. “I’m also really eager to find some opportunity to work with new companies that are developing technology, either here at the university or imported from elsewhere, in southeast Wyoming.”
There are several businesses starting up or continuing to grow that McGinity plans to help in the coming months.
“There are a number of these companies where, the entrepreneurs are doing this for the first time, and that’s an area where I can actually claim to have a lot of experience in, so I want to help encourage them to create and grow,” he said.
While trustees and vice presidents are grateful for McGinity’s service, he is only focused on what can be judged after leaving.
“It doesn’t matter how great you think you are,” he said. “The only thing that counts is what you’ve accomplished.”