The University of Wyoming is likely to lose a president this year. No, not Laurie Nichols.
Dave True, the president of UW’s board of trustees, will have his title changed to “chairman” if, as expected, the Legislature passes House Bill 41.
HB 41 was drafted at the behest of UW, primarily to make that change to True’s title.
Despite UW’s preference, True’s title is currently “president” largely because state statute lays out the board’s structure and uses that title in all instances.
The bill easily passed the House on Jan. 16 and the Senate’s education committee unanimously signed off on the bill Monday. HB 41 could come up for a first reading vote on the Senate floor today.
Meredith Asay, UW’s governmental relations director, has taken the lead role in convincing legislators to support the change. Having Nichols and True sharing the title “president” is a “little bit confusing,” she told legislators this month.
It’s just a semantic change, but the proposal will be a notable deviation from the board’s 128-year formal history.
The board’s original hand-written bylaws, written in 1891, provide that the “President of the Board of Trustees shall preside over all meetings of the board and perform such other duties, executive, as usually pertain to this office.”
HB 41 also makes another change to the board’s structure — at least to how the board is structured in state statute.
The trustees currently have an “executive committee” that handles day-to-day affairs of the board.
Under the current structure, the board has four members: True, Jeff Marsh, John McKinley and Kermit Brown.
However, statute states UW’s executive committee should have three trustees. That was also how the original 1891 bylaws were written.
HB 41 would revise the statute to say the committee should consist of “no fewer than three members” of the full board.
UW’s current bylaws allow for five members of the executive committee.
“Currently, executive committee is uncomfortable because they’re technically outside of the law,” Asay said.
The Senate’s education committee has proposed one change brought by Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie. If the Senate adopts that amendment, statute would use the term “chairperson,” with True and his successors free to use a gendered term at their leisure.
Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, unsuccessfully tried to bring the same amendment when the bill went through a committee vetting in the House.
“I really don’t like putting back into statute a gendered term,” she said at the time.
Asay said Legislative Service Office staff originally used the term “chairman” when drafting the bill solely because that term is the norm in Wyoming’s statutes. She said UW didn’t have a preference whether statute uses a gender-neutral term.
A nearly identical bill was brought before Legislature in 2017 but failed in the House on a 23-35 vote. That bill was sponsored by Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, and Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton.