The University of Wyoming will have a new leader in less than two months, and incoming President Laurie Nichols has big plans when she takes her seat in Old Main.
While she’ll be taking over during a tumultuous time of budget cuts and ongoing initiatives, her first goals is reaching out to people both on- and off-campus.
“There’s a group working on a statewide outreach where I’ll go in different trips around the state, like spending a couple days in Casper,” she said. “The other part that’s going on is reaching out to the various units on campus and just scheduling me to come in for an hour. This’ll be over the course of the summer, but it’s really just to have a cup of coffee, and this is no formal presentation. It’s just a meet-and-greet and let me spend a little time with the faculty and staff in a department.”
And Nichols plans on visiting with every department in the few months after arriving May 16.
“I think it’s really important,” she said. “I really need to spend time to get to know the university and the state, and I think capturing that my early months in the job would be a huge advantage, because when school starts in the fall, activities really pick up, and I’ll want to be on campus then.
“It’s really never done,” she continued. “But at least I can say, ‘I really have gotten to a lot of the communities in the state and met people,’ and I just think that I’ll have formed a foundation I can build on.”
The Fiscal Year 2017 budget will likely be approved during the May Board of Trustees meeting before Nichols arrives, but she said she’s been involved the whole way through.
The new provost search is continuing and will likely be the focus of Nichols’ next trip to campus.
“If we have a successful search, my goal would be getting a candidate on campus no later than Aug. 1, but we’ll see where their situation is,” she said.
The search panel is continuing to winnow the list of candidates, with some candidates visiting campus in early May. Replacing David Jones, current vice president of academic affairs, the new provost would come in time to prepare for the 2016 fall semester.
The UW program evaluation — set to review every major through criteria such as graduation rates, research funding and total course hours taught — is already underway, beginning at a college and department review level. Dean comments and suggestions would eventually go to UW administration. Although Nichols wasn’t certain of the exact timeline, she estimated it would take the remainder of fall semester.
“If that’s the case, that does coincide very nicely when I start on May 16,” she said. “And I would say, at that point in time, assuming everything is in, I would just simply need to read them all. I need to become much more familiar with it.”
After time reviewing each evaluation, departments would get involved, Nichols said.
“If there are programs that are bubbling up, we’d start having some conversations with them,” she said. “This decision will not be made in a dark room in secret. The best outcome is, this process really starts with the faculty and the department chair really working on it together. The best outcome is if they can come up with their own solutions.”
Of course, Nichols is beginning to look out to goals past the coming summer, she said.
“Some are starting to formulate for me, but I don’t want you to think I’ve predetermined the strategic plan,” she said. “I’m very excited about putting together a really good process, because if you put a good process together, the plan will be good.”
Integration of current UW projects, like the various initiatives, will be a staple of the plan, Nichols said.
“They’ve already got feet under them and there’s been energy and resources put into them — we’re not going to back away from that,” she said. “I also think we need to keep enrollment in the plan — where are we at now and, more importantly, where are we going to go.”
Finally, UW’s budget isn’t likely to increase anytime soon, and possible money-saving efforts need to be included for any long-term analysis to work, Nichols said.
“Of course, I think resource management is going to be a huge part,” she said. “It’s not going to go away. We’re in this for the long haul, and looking at how we are using precious resources and how we can become as an efficient of a university as possible will have to be part of the next plan.”