A new professorial designation proposed by the University of Wyoming would create “fourth class” employees and threaten the faculty’s political independence argues UW professor Donal O'Toole.(Gregory Nickerson/WyoFile)

University of Wyoming faculty leaders are upset that only two women will serve on the newly configured Board of Trustees, which meets for the first time this week in Laramie.

Gov. Matt Mead (R) appointed five new board members this month, an opportunity to add more diversity to the governing body as requested by a UW Faculty petition. Michelle Sullivan of Sheridan joins incumbent Wava Tully as the only two women trustees, maintaining the women to men ratio of 2-10. Trustee Betty Fear’s term expired this month.

More than 450 faculty and members of the public signed a petition urging Gov. Mead to appoint more women and minorities to the board. The signature drive launched five months ago.

“Does it bother anyone else that the Governor had five vacancies to fill on the UW Board of Trustees (42% of the total seats), and he managed to find only one [woman] in the entire state of Wyoming qualified to serve?” Maggi Murdock wrote in an open message to the faculty email list.

Murdock, political science professor and former dean of the Outreach School, said the governor’s staff contacted her after her message was posted. Staffers explained that several women candidates were approached, but many declined the offer or were ineligible because of party registration, she said.

“While I understand that the Governor did solicit suggestions for female candidates, the fact remains that this is a board that could do with some diversity of opinion and perspective,” Murdock told WyoFile, via email. “We’ve missed another huge opportunity to provide that diversity.”

Faculty Senate President Edward Janak said that several of the new trustees have significant experience in K-16 education that will benefit the board.

“I know many faculty, including myself, are upset at the lack of diversity on the Board of Trustees, particularly in regards to sex,” Janak said in an email response to WyoFile. “However, considering the constraints that Governor Mead was facing and the fact that he had well over 100 appointments to make (for other boards), I think the folks he chose will do admirably well, and I’d like to start their term on a positive note.”

Staff Senate president Rachel Stevens said her group would like to see more diversity in the Board of Trustees in the future. “We look forward to working with the new trustees and having a productive year,” Stevens said.

Faculty and staff concerns

University of Wyoming Faculty Senate President Edward Janak testifies at a hearing during the 2015 Legislature. (Gregory Nickerson/WyoFile)
University of Wyoming Faculty Senate President Edward Janak testifies at a hearing during the 2015 Legislature. (Gregory Nickerson/WyoFile)

Janak said he hopes the trustees will conduct a successful search for a new UW president, which could happen in summer 2016 unless the Board of Trustees chooses to extend president Dick McGinity’s term.

Both Janak and Stevens agree that staff feel stretched thin with the demands of new construction. Some custodians are responsible for cleaning 40,000 square feet of space each, when the best practice is 25,000 square feet, Stevens said. The same type of overcommitment applies to plumbers, electricians, and carpenters on campus, she said.

Low pay and lack of responsiveness to workplace complaints are responsible for significant turnover among staff — some 467 staff members left UW in 2013 alone, Janak said. That’s about 25 percent of full- and part-time staff working at UW, as of fall 2013. In 2008 the university employed 1,876 staff, not counting faculty.

“Over the last 5-7 years or so these folks have had their numbers decreased, salaries frozen, and yet the physical footprint of the campus has expanded greatly,” Janak said. “This is not a formula for success.”

UW and the Legislature have recently put money toward faculty and staff raises — about $7.2 million for 2015-2016, said UW spokesman Chad Baldwin. That increase comes after about five years when UW didn’t have money to offer raises.

Staffing reductions in prior years have forced some UW staff to take on additional workloads, and staff feel they can’t use their accrued leave time because there is no one to fill in, Stevens said. That finding was part of a staff survey conducted last fall. Staff would also like a review of the employee evaluation system and how it is tied to merit pay.

Perhaps most important, Janak said, university leadership and the Legislature have not fully taken into consideration the life-cycle costs of new buildings constructed over the past seven years. He recommends a slowdown in construction until the university’s block grant is expanded to match the 30-year life-cycle costs of new buildings. At other universities such analysis of life-cycle costs is required before new construction goes forward.

“Numerous legislators have gone on record saying that they approve (and in some cases initiate) capital construction because it’s a ‘one time expense,’” Stevens said. “This is very disheartening to staff members who are feeling stretched very thin and it has also caused trouble for Physical Plant in terms of covering increased utility costs.”

The Staff Senate recently passed a resolution calling for more up-front analysis of added maintenance costs from new buildings.

University of Wyoming Staff Senate president Rachel Stevens speaks at a 2015 legislative hearing. (Gregory Nickerson/WyoFile)
University of Wyoming Staff Senate president Rachel Stevens speaks at a 2015 legislative hearing. (Gregory Nickerson/WyoFile)

The university does get increased major maintenance funding whenever new square-footage is built, Baldwin said. The physical plant director also keeps close watch on staffing needs.

“It is an issue when you build lots of space you have to be able to maintain it, and I am sure it is something we will continue to point out to policymakers,” Baldwin said.

UW requested $1 million in recurring funds for maintenance and inspections this year, and the Legislature added about $475,000 to the UW block grant, Baldwin said.

Janak said new construction has significantly decreased the amount of parking for faculty and staff near their workplaces, leaving some to resort to parking in off-campus lots and taking mass-transit buses. The schedule of the buses often doesn’t match the needs of faculty and staff who work late hours, Janak said.

Libraries and Information Technology also need greater support to keep up with the growing needs on the campus, mostly related to new construction and new programs, Janak said.

New trustees

The new trustees include two Republicans and three Democrats from different parts of the state, as required by law. (Courtesy University of Wyoming)
The new trustees include two Republicans and three Democrats from different parts of the state, as required by law. (Courtesy University of Wyoming)

The five new members include three Democrats and two Republicans appointed by Mead and confirmed by the Wyoming Senate. That mix restores the party balance so that no more than seven of 12 trustees belong to the same party, as required by law. The balance had been thrown off because some trustees switched party affiliation after their appointments. The death of trustee Warren Lauer, a Democrat from Laramie, also contributed to the imbalance.

The new trustees are Mike Massie, Dick Scarlett, Michelle Sullivan, Mel Baldwin, and John McKinley.

Massie (D) is a former state legislator who retired from his post as UW associate vice president for external affairs in January. He served as special assistant to the University of Wyoming President for External Affairs and as a lobbyist for the university during the 2012-2014 legislative sessions.

Former banker Dick Scarlett (R), of Jackson, holds M.B.A. and honorary doctorate degrees from UW. He is a major donor to the College of Business and the Arena Auditorium, contributing more than $1 million.

Scarlett founded United Bancorporation of Wyoming, which had $1.7 billion in assets at the time of its sale to Wells Fargo in 2008, as reported by the Jackson Hole News and Guide. He owns Scarlett Capital, and serves as a director of Foster Freiss’ Brandywine Fund. A long-time friend of Dick Cheney, Scarlett has hosted GOP fundraising dinners for candidates such as Mitt Romney. He also served on Liz Cheney’s campaign team during her run for U.S. Senate in 2013.

Michelle Sullivan (D) is a consultant active in early-childhood education and classroom design. She is founder of the Center for Inspired Learning. Sullivan formerly served as chairwoman of the State Board of Education and as a member of the State Parks and Cultural Resources Commission, as well as many other private foundation boards.

Sullivan is the daughter of former Gov. Mike Sullivan, and served as state director for Obama for America in 2009-2010.

Mel Baldwin (D) of Star Valley served as school district administrator in Evanston and Riverton. Baldwin holds a PhD from UW, and has taught courses at UW, Central Wyoming College, Northwest College and Western Wyoming Community College. He retired as superintendent of schools in Evanston in 2004.

John McKinley (R) of Cheyenne, is an attorney for Davis & Cannon. He earned J.D. and M.B.A. degrees from UW, and currently serves on the advisory board for the UW College of Law. He works for the same firm owned by former UW trustee Dick Davis of Sheridan, whose term ended this month.

The trustees will meet March 25-27 in Laramie. The complete agenda for the meeting is available here. More details on the trustees’ background are here.

New trustees in a period of change

The Board of Trustees has overseen tumultuous leadership changes in recent years. It hired former president Robert Sternberg in 2013, whose arrival coincided — and in some cases caused — the departure of many of the university’s deans and administrators.

Sternberg abruptly resigned after just a few months on the job, because the trustees said they’d lost confidence in him for reasons that they never publicly disclosed. In January 2014 trustees named former interim provost Dick McGinity as UW president. He has overseen the hiring of new deans and leaders in the Office of Academic Affairs.

Lawmakers listen to a briefing about the proposed University of Wyoming Science Initiative. The 2015 Legislature appropriated $33.75 million to the effort, on top of $115 million committed to the College of Engineering. (Gregory Nickerson/WyoFile)
Lawmakers listen to a briefing about the proposed University of Wyoming Science Initiative. The 2015 Legislature appropriated $33.75 million to the effort, on top of $115 million committed to the College of Engineering. (Gregory Nickerson/WyoFile)

During the same period, the Legislature has taken an active role in directing the university to revamp several academic units, including many of the core science departments, the College of Engineering, and the College of Education.

Taken together, the various initiatives could add up to more than $300 million in new buildings and programs.

“In general, I hope everyone involved with these initiatives — Trustees, Legislators, administrators, and faculty — remember that an initiative is not a building project, but must encompass everything that comes within — added faculty and staff, IT support, etc.,” Janak said.

Gregory Nickerson worked as government and policy reporter for WyoFile from 2012-2015. He studied history at the University of Wyoming. Follow Greg on Twitter at @GregNickersonWY and on www.facebook.com/GregoryNickersonWriter/

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  1. Just to note, the 2015 U S News report on law School rankings lists the U of Wyoming Law School at # 108.
    Dr Sternberg could have got old copies of the U S News and World Report rankings and compared for points in time. A pretext was used to form a TASK Force, but that is some omerta thing, that some do not care to get into,(regarding the law school at U of WYO). I do know that in he 1960’s and 1970’s, Professor Frank Trelease was regarded as the foremost expert on water law in the World,not just the USA. He was regarded in that manner by many other professors at many other law schools, without dispute. How did that translate on the U S News and World Report ABA data- U of Wyo law ranking? Dr Sternberg was influenced by some with an agenda when he came to Laramie, then the rug was pulled on him. Was he a mere pawn, some using him for an agenda?
    It is now curious all the OPEDs of people ringing their hands as they point to Dr Sternberg, as the GOAT.
    The appointment of Trustees has become more a political decision, after all the Governor works in the area of politics, a factor in his election to that position. Is pressure put on him for different slots, different agendas? Professor Easton threw around the term ethics claiming the law school was not treated “ethically” by Sternberg. It is ironic long after Sternberg left Laramie he is now pointed to as some universal goat in the so called Wyo U circles. To whip up hostility to Sternberg one leading Light from
    Cheyenne invoked twriking as a pretext, and fed it to the media, and blog wonders in Wyoming. Dicey.

    Jim Hagood

  2. It is curious, how Strernberg is pointed to in several opeds. Dr Bob make a fuss on the UW law school, & claimed he was told it was once top, but has dropped, in some areas. ( natural resources, oil and gas, etc)…
    See google on how the Sternberg incident unfolded.(his short stay in LARAMIE). Has the ABA rating for the University of Wyoming(law School) changed much over the last 40 years? I don’t believe so. If people want to go into economics that is their decision, if they want a degree in any of the many areas,( arts and science) that is a personal decision. Any can go on the BLOG-O- Sphere and find the piece that Gerry Spence’s claims law students were defrauded of their legal education. (He is a U W law grad). He then puts in his BOOK bio(St Martins Press) that he has learned more from his dogs than all the books in the world. Granted I have learned a lot from two bull dogs, but owing dogs does not provide the bona fides to get a law license. Professor Easton did not lose a professorship at U of WYO law. It was Dr Bob who came out on the short in of the stick, and people are still pointing to him on things which are very wide and far as the “Sternberg incident” Is that some conspiracy? Where are the facts, to lay at Dr Bob’s door, who is now in New York? Did The U of Wyo ABA rating go up while Easton was Dean, or Drop? Is that ABA rating the sum of all ratings. The University of Wyoming Law School, is one of the smallest by enrollment in the USA. It is not going to teach in some areas that are subjects taught at Columbia, or New York University, or Yale where Sternberg’s daughter went, and is now a rising star in her own domain. Is all the task force fuss much to do about nothing? For Easton it was not, but
    some Trustees got miffed at him in the matter. Even within the domain of oil and gas, there are many different areas. The Ex Dean of UW law (Pete) had a speciality on taxation of minerals. By the way, water is not a mineral in many people’s book. Legal Ethics was taught at U of WYO law in the 1960’s, Most state CLE(Continuing Legal Education) requires continuing legal education in ethics after law school, as to .those who hold a state bar license (bar mandates).

    Jim Hagood

  3. I find it interesting the Governor’s office only defended itself after the fact, rather than provide an explanation as the decision was announced. That does nothing to convince the UW community that a real effort was made. As for the new BOT, welcome. I hope your term will exemplify ethics, integrity and the support of a well-rounded education for students, with equal support for staff and faculty in all disciplines.

    Jo Smith

  4. I think the new BOT members for UW will do a fine job but I definitely wish for more diversity and of course, women’s representation. At the same time, I know how hard it is to find qualified people who will step up to positions such as this. Everyone should share the responsibility of soliciting individuals for public service appointments. UW BOT is not the only place where good candidates just don’t apply.

  5. Biography for Michelle Sullivan should include her mother Jane as well as Mike.

    Pete Jorgensen