As the University of Wyoming Board of Trustees begins its search for a new president, Gov. Mark Gordon sent a letter Thursday offering his advice, concerns and expectations for the search, urging transparency in the process.
“I am confident that, as trustees, there can be no question in your minds about the care you must bring to the task of selecting a president,” he wrote. “I also believe you are each equally aware that an institution which has seen so many presidents come and go over the past decade must work hard to do better.”
In his letter, Gordon calls for a “thorough and transparent process” as the trustees try to find a new president. Additionally, he said he wanted the trustees to better define the university’s mission both currently and as they look to the future, keeping that mission in mind throughout the search process.
In a Thursday email to the Laramie Boomerang, Gordon added “taking time to solidify the university’s mission and invest in a solid process now will prepare the university for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in the future.”
Citing a popular quote commonly attributed to Albert Einstein — “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” — Gordon wrote in his letter the university needs to choose a candidate after a “thorough vetting of a good selection of qualified candidates.”
He added “no matter how tempting it may be” to insert a familiar face, referring to current acting president Neil Theobald, the trustees should instead conduct a comprehensive search.
“I worry that should this search default to a perceived ‘obvious’ or expected choice, your process will be viewed as unsound,” he wrote in the letter. “If so, a new administration will be hamstrung before it even gets off the ground. It is not a stretch to suggest that our university’s current image is already complicated. It need not be undermined further by insinuation or doubt.”
Gordon told the Boomerang he “feels strongly that a well-conceived and effectively executed presidential search is critical for building the confidence in the institution’s stakeholders.”
Gordon noted the backlash and criticisms that arose both campus- and state-wide after the dismissal former president Bob Sternberg in 2013 and, more recently, the departure of former president Laurie Nichols in the spring.
While noting turnover within upper administration of any university is to be expected, Gordon said the concerns from UW’s recent transitions “have reached a volume that can only degrade the confidence students, faculty, and the people of Wyoming have in their lone public university.”
Degrading the public’s confidence any further, Gordon told the Boomerang, will put the administration at a disadvantage and “contribute to the cycle of turnover, putting our sole flagship university at risk.” Continued erosion of faith in the trustees, potential decreases in enrollment and continued turnover of faculty and staff were also potential consequences the governor pointed to.
Trustees chairman Dave True told the Boomerang he felt the letter “is very consistent with what has been implemented and going forward.”
“I think, as I interpreted the letter, it encouraged us to have a thoughtful and very open approach,” True said. “I think that’s what the board has certainly decided to do.”
Should Theobald decide he wants to be a potential candidate for the permanent position, True said the interim president would “follow the same regimen as anyone else who might be interested in that position.”
After the university announced Nichols’ departure in March, members of the public came out to the subsequent Board of Trustees’ meeting to voice criticisms and concerns. During the public comment period, representatives of UW’s student government were joined by faculty and staff members in voicing desires for a transparent search process.
As the trustees held the search’s first listening session town hall this week, members of faculty and staff recommended looking for a president that would help unify the university with the state, as well as a desire for the candidate to have a backbone strong enough to balance pressures from the faculty, staff, trustees and even the state Legislature.
Gordon told the Boomerang he was “pleased that university employees were able to provide input” at the listening session because it will “have significant impacts on them going forward.”
He added he sent the letter so the public understands “that he is committed and engaged in ensuring a successful search process.”