laurie nichols

University of Wyoming President Laurie Nichols talked Wednesday about the roughly $24 million in supplemental budget funding the school received this year from the Legislature.

A $2.77 million appropriation for the University of Wyoming in the Legislature’s supplemental budget will be used to give an across-the-board raise to all general-funded employees at the university.

Jeanne Durr, UW’s human resources director, said Thursday she’s expecting that will mean a 2 percent increase for all employees making less than $80,000.

The raise for employees making more than $80,000 will be capped at about $1,600.

Durr said she hopes that employees not paid via the university’s general fund, like dining staff and grant-funded positions, will also receive a 2 percent raise. However, that will depend on UW’s ability to find other internal funds to pay that staff.

When former Gov. Matt Mead had requested supplemental budget funding to give raises at UW, the initial purpose was to give raises to the university’s “classified staff” — meaning non-faculty and non-administrators.

However, by the time the Legislature passed the budget, the money given to UW is required to be “uniformly distributed to employees … in a uniform percentage for the portion of any employee’s or position’s generally funded salary.”

The announcement of a 2 percent raise came during a town hall meeting at the Wyoming Union, where UW President Laurie Nichols and other administrators discussed the legislative session and other major projects at the university.

Nichols discussed UW’s new funding finalized with Gov. Mark Gordon’s signature last week.

While some key projects went unfunded by the Legislature, Nichols said it’s “a huge victory” that UW received nearly $24 million in new money.

“I suppose in some way we could be a little bit disappointed that we didn’t get everything we asked for, but the reality is, is that you never do,” she said.

The top priority in UW’s budget request was $10 million to create an endowment for new scholarships. The Legislature gave just $2.5 million. Legislators only gave $500,000 of the $5 million UW had asked for for the College of Agriculture.

Meanwhile, legislators appropriated more $11 million to UW that university administrators hadn’t asked for.

“That’s the interesting part of working with a legislative session is that legislators will bring their own ideas to the table and then you try to shape them and modify them as best you can,” Nichols said.

One of the disappointments for Nichols of the session was the passage of a bill that will allow Wyoming’s community colleges to offer bachelor’s of applied science degrees.

“There was widespread support for this … and we could just not get it defeated at the end of today,” Nichols said.

She noted UW staff “lobbied hard” to be able to get three other similar bills defeated.

She said that “in a state with a population like Wyoming, it is not optimal to have many locations offering bachelor’s degrees.”

However, since the new degree programs will need to be approved by The Higher Learning Commission, Nichols said it will still be a year or two until UW has intrastate competition for bachelor’s degrees.

Community colleges “have a lot of work ahead of them before they can start offering BAS degrees,” she said.

When Nichols was asked whether UW’s formerly decentralized reserves would ever be fully returned to their departments, Nichols said that was unlikely.

As the board of trustees passed its 2018 budget, it voted to gather some $140 million into centralized reserves, pooling money held across the university in hundreds of division-and college-level reserves.

A number of faculty and campus organizations raised concerns over the sweep, arguing the money — which was sometimes money gained through research grants or student fees — should not have been taken and that doing so jeopardized their operations.

Following a request process involving a strict chain of command and board approval, some of these funds were returned to their original homes out of the centralized reserves.

David Jewell, who leads fiscal planning for the university, said that more than $10 million of that money has been returned.

“The trustees are less interested in just reinstating funding and more interested in moving your strategic needs forward,” she said.

Nichols said that if a department wants to have reserves returned, its best bet is to draft a proposal for how the money would be used.

“It’s a much better request than just ‘give me my money back’,” Nichols said “It’s been 2 years since this gripe happened, and quite honestly, we need to get beyond it and move forward. Just waiting for your money to come back is probably not where the trustees are at this point.”

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