A mood of optimism brightened a gloomy, rainy day in Laramie as University of Wyoming President Laurie Nichols announced the commencement of a planning process to steer the university through the next five years.
Nichols was joined by Provost Kate Miller and keynote speaker Louisiana State University President F. King Alexander to address guests at the Marion Rochelle Gateway Center for the Strategic Planning Kickoff event Friday.
“It will be exciting for us to think about the future, to talk about our hopes and dreams for the University of Wyoming over the next five-plus years, and to really start moving this university forward — I look so forward to that,” Nichols said.
With a challenging budgetary future, UW’s leaders are facing critical questions of how to best keep Wyoming’s only university on stable ground. When Nichols began her tenure in May, she announced one of her key goals would be implementing a strategic plan for UW — something the institution hasn’t done for several years.
The event was the first opportunity to introduce the public to all 17 voting members and eight ex-officio members of the Strategic Planning Leadership Council. Following campus-wide and statewide meetings, a draft plan is expected in January, with a tentative plan for the Board of Trustees to review and approve the final document in May.
“The rest of fall semester will be a time of listening, a time of gathering people together who care about this university and who can help give us insights about the future of the university,” Nichols said. “Then spring semester will shift more to a time of analyzing that information and drafting a strategic plan — and believe me, there will be drafts — my past experience is there will be several drafts before we see something we’d consider to be the final strategic plan for the university.”
During her time as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at South Dakota State University, Nichols led two separate efforts to develop strategic plans.
Alexander — widely recognized as one of the leading national advocates for public higher education — said LSU and UW had many similarities, and gave his approval of implementing a strategic planning process.
“I commend the president for moving into this strategic plan at a time when public higher education is at an important crossroads,” Alexander said.
Alexander said UW was commendable for having above-average outcomes for students at a comparatively affordable cost for students. The crossroads he referred to, however, was a point of caution that public higher education is at risk of falling behind other nations. State lawmakers, he said, need to continue supporting public institutions and not succumb to the privatization of higher education.
“Our 55- to 64-year-old Americans, in the number that graduated from college, ranks number one in the (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries,” Alexander said. “Our 25- to 34-year-olds rank 12th, and we’re about to fall to 13th. By 2020, if we don’t change this trend, we’ll be 19th behind Bulgaria — this is the number one issue on the minds of American higher education.”
Though he emphasized UW and Wyoming’s current budgetary crisis were relatively manageable when compared to challenges other states face, Alexander said policy decisions going forward could be the difference in equitable access to higher education.
“As you enter some of these budget discussions — and you are on the late end of this dialogue of budget cuts — despite how it happened … I’d hate to see Wyoming fall into the trap Louisiana has been in for nine years, and that is to allow Louisiana to cut public higher education, so people can get re-elected and then don’t have to raise taxes to support public colleges and universities so those kids in kindergarten — first grade, second grade — will have same opportunities we had. We owe them this,” Alexander said.
UW Strategic Planning Leadership Council members
Council chair: Kate Miller, provost
Dean representatives: Klint Alexander, College of Law, and Ray Reutzel, College of Education
Director representative: Susan Aronstein, Honors Program
Department head representative: Adrienne Freng, Criminal Justice
Faculty representatives: Michael Barker, Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering; Diane Boyle, School of Nursing; Caroline McCracken-Flesher, Department of English; and Cynthia Weinig, Department of Botany
Staff representatives: Alison Shaver, accountant, Department of Ecosystem Science and Management; and Allen Tanner, computer support specialist, School of Energy Resources
Athletics representative: Matt Whisenant, deputy director of athletics
Undergraduate student representative: Zac Hall, economics, math and statistics
Graduate student representative: Casey Terrell, College of Law
Board of Trustees representative: Jeff Marsh
UW Foundation Board representative: April Brimmer Kunz
UW Alumni Association Board representative: Tim Wilson
Ex-officio members: Ben Blalock, vice president of institutional advancement; Keener Fry, UW Alumni Association executive director; Bill Gern, vice president for research and economic development; Bill Mai, vice president for administration; Sara Axelson, vice president for Student Affairs; Tom Burman, Athletics director; Robert Aylward, vice president for Information Technology; Chris Boswell, vice president for Governmental and Community Affairs