University of Wyoming interim leader: Old administrations didn't listen to state concerns

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

CHEYENNE – Newly named University of Wyoming Interim President Dick McGinity said previous university administrations failed to listen and respond to the needs of the state.

McGinity told a legislative committee Thursday that the recent leadership changes at the university were caused by an “unresponsive” attitude to a number of goals and initiatives supported by state policymakers.

He said this includes growing the School of Energy Resources, attracting the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center to the state and developing the Governor’s Energy, Engineering, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Integration Task Force.

“The response to those requests or urgings from the state were slow, reluctant, and, I think, at least indifferent or unenthusiastic – and some people would apply stronger adjectives than I would,” he said. “But the governor and Legislature have been growing increasing[ly] insistent, and that led to leadership changes that occurred in the past year, going back to the resignation of President [Tom] Buchanan.”

McGinity became acting president last month – and was then named the interim leader last week – following the troubled 137-day tenure of former President Bob Sternberg.

Sternberg, who took over for Buchanan in July, resigned amid controversies over a staffing shake-up of several deans and administrators.

During his budget presentation to the Joint Appropriations Committee, McGinity assured lawmakers that “the philosophies of the board of trustees and the management team that is now in place are very different from a year ago or even six months ago.”

He added that their 2015-16 budget requests and their mission to improve student and faculty retention rates reflect this new attitude.

He said their top budget priority remains securing raises for university employees.

This, he said, is central to their goal of building up the university’s reputation and attracting top students.

“What we are facing is the reality that some of the brightest and most valuable faculty we have are being recruited by marquee-named schools,” he said. “And because of what they perceive to be a higher compensation, they are tempted and, at times, choose to leave.”

UW is seeking about $13.3 million in raises for the biennium. This would amount to about a 4 percent increase in the university’s overall salary base.

Bill Gern, UW’s vice president for research and economic development, said the university would plan to give some amount of raise to most of its employees.

But he said they would like to use a greater share for some of the so-called star professors who are at risk of being lured away.

Gern said this is because they don’t have a problem recruiting or retaining “entry-level” faculty. Instead, he said the problem is what happens when the entry-level professors advance in their careers.

“We make the analogy that it’s like being a AAA (minor league) farm team in baseball,” he said. “We hire great people, they build themselves up, they become known to our competitors, and then they go get them.

“So we have to be able to fight that off.”

Gov. Matt Mead’s budget request includes funds for essentially the same amount that UW is seeking. But he is proposing to give across-the-board raises of 2.5 percent in 2015 and another 2.5 percent in 2016.

However, budget officials said if the governor’s proposal is accepted, UW will likely have the leeway to spend the money as it wishes, since the university receives the bulk of its state funds as a block grant.

Several lawmakers said they were generally in support of the raises.

But similar to the debate over compensation for other state employees, they said more discussion is needed to determine how much the employees should receive and how their retirement and insurance packages should be factored into the decision.

“Like when we come here as members of the Legislature, we have to balance revenues with the demands of the state,” said Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, co-chairman of the JAC. “So there are all these pressures on us, and we have to balance this with the needs that our constituencies have.”

In total, UW is seeking about $412 million in state funds for the two-year budget cycle.

In addition to the raises, funding increases that Mead is also recommending include:

$2.86 million to expand and replace UW’s wireless network and upgrade other information technology services. $1 million to upgrade Wyoming Public Media infrastructure. $706,000 for off-campus maintenance and operations. $665,900 to maintain and operate a biological safety laboratory. $726,880 to expand and strengthen partnerships with the state’s community colleges. $200,000 for brucellosis vaccine research.

Mead is also proposing $6 million for campus infrastructure projects, $4 million for classroom renovations and $5 million for the Arena-Auditorium project.

Members of the Joint Appropriations Committee will vote on Mead’s recommendation when they meet again in January.

The committee’s proposed budget will then be considered by the full Legislature when the 2014 session begins Feb. 10.