As lawmakers start considering what bills to propose, introduce or back during the 2019 general session of the Wyoming Legislature, the University of Wyoming is watching closely, drafting required reports and preparing to answer questions if called upon.
Interim Vice President for Government and Community Affairs Meredith Asay — the UW administrator responsible for monitoring the Legislature and lobbying for the university — said the Education Committee is one of many UW hopes to keep tabs on.
“We want to make sure we participate in the process in order to best represent UW and best inform the Legislature on UW and UW’s needs,” she said.
The Education Committee is tasked with looking into school finance, safety and security, school accountability, the “basket of goods” offered to students in Wyoming’s public schools and college transcripts.
“We look at the different topic areas that could be of interest to UW or could impact UW,” Asay said. “The work we will be following is the work they do around school safety and security. At this time, the Education Committee is not specifically looking at the university. However, we like to make sure we’re paying attention in case there are things that do impact us.”
She added the topic is also relevant because of the presence of the Lab School on campus — a fully functioning school for some 200 students in grades kindergarten through ninth, where UW education majors gain experience teaching.
Issues surrounding school and campus safety have been part of a long-standing national discussion that touches on a wide range of hot-button topics such as school shootings, campus concealed carry, arming teachers, sexual assault and the threat of violence during protests.
UW — and some school districts — are no strangers to many of these topics.
Guest speaker Dennis Prager was worried about violence ahead of his UW visit in November, because of emails apparently referencing violent encounters between students and conservative speakers at other universities. No violence occurred, but some lawmakers attempted to pass a bill forbidding UW faculty, staff and students from disinviting controversial speakers.
ASUW, the university’s student government, brought the Rave Guardian app to UW in April. The app allows students to set a safety timer, indicating where they are going and how long it should take to get there. If the student fails to arrive on time, the app will automatically notify the UW Police Department or friends and family designated by the student as ‘guardians.’
Following the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, the perennial debate surrounding guns and gun control came to the forefront of political dialogue once more, spurred by a few, very vocal survivors. This debate came to Wyoming, as well.
In April, during the Wyoming GOP Convention hosted on the UW campus, several delegates from across the state openly carried firearms in defiance of a university policy banning them. Uinta County delegate Lyle Williams was written a citation for trespassing and said he plans to challenge UW’s policy in court. He pleaded not guilty in May and is currently awaiting trial.
“The university was monitoring the issue before that instance occurred,” Asay said. “School safety and security are always going to be of the utmost importance to the university.”
The committee, however, is tasked with looking at school safety as it relates K-12 schools and community colleges.
Wyoming Community College Commission Executive Director Jim Rose said the colleges would further examine related issues during a conference in October.
“All of the colleges know the current conditions and environment, so I know they’re having this conference,” he said. “And some of it has to do with safety and all of those aspects and issues with various forms of violence.”
UW is also focused on the other topics assigned to the Education Committee, Asay said.
“Specifically, the committee will look at the common core of knowledge and skills that is taught in the K-12 system,” she said. “The university will pay attention to that for multiple reasons — one being that we need to make sure our admission criteria aligns with what is being required (for) high school graduation.”
The basket of goods, graduation requirements, Hathaway Scholarship Program requirements and funding sources and university admissions are closely related, Asay said, making the conversation surrounding them highly relevant to the university’s interests.
A bill passed during the 2018 budget session directed UW and the community colleges to develop a common college transcript — an electronic record equally valid at any of the state’s eight public institutions of higher learning.
While many students transfer from a college to the university without a hitch, some courses completed at community colleges are not yet recognized by the university system, meaning some transfer students must retake courses in order to graduate.
“Because of our reliance on community colleges for transfer students and also our very strong relationship with the community colleges, we always pay attention to the work the Legislature is doing with community colleges,” Asay said.