University of Wyoming president Dick McGinity speaks at an event marking a $5 million donation from Hess Corporation in June 2014. McGinity announced Monday that he will resign as president in June 2016. Trustees plan to conduct an open search for the next president in the coming months. (Gregory Nickerson/WyoFile)

University of Wyoming president Dick McGinity will step down at the end of his contract in 2016, setting in motion a search for a new president by the board of trustees.

Trustees plan to hold an open search for the next president and announce the finalists, in contrast to the controversial closed search held in 2012-2013.

Faculty Senate president Edward Janak said his group thanks McGinity for “stepping up and serving in a role in a troubled time at UW.” He also praised the trustees for their plan to solicit feedback across campus before starting a search at their upcoming meeting in May.

“I think the active involvement of the entire campus community throughout the process is the best outcome we can hope for this time around,” Janak said.

Should the search go as planned, the new president who replaces McGinity would be the fourth executive in that office since Tom Buchanan stepped down in summer 2013.

McGinity announced his pending resignation Monday morning after a short teleconference among trustees. McGinity told the board during its March 25-27 meeting that he would not seek to renew his contract, but didn’t announce it publicly at the time. He said he intended to make a public announcement last week, but deferred due to two student suicides on campus.

Former trustees chairman Dave Bostrom announces the resignation of UW president Robert Sternberg and the appointment of Dick McGinity as interim president in November 2013. The trustees gave McGinity a two-year contract in January 2014 without conducting a search. (Gregory Nickerson/WyoFile)

Trustees appointed former interim provost McGinity as president for a two-year term in January 2014. They did so without undergoing a formal search and amid faculty criticism that professors hadn’t been properly consulted.

McGinity was the second successor to former president Tom Buchanan, who resigned in summer 2013 after serving eight years. Trustees first hired Robert Sternberg, who abruptly resigned in November 2013 after trustees lost confidence in him for reasons never made public.

Since his installment McGinity has overseen the replacement of deans who either resigned or were dismissed during Sternberg’s short tenure. He’s also helped shepherd initiatives to improve engineering and science education, launch a new strategic plan, and start planning for a new fiscal accounting system. University employees also received raises under McGinity, partially making up for purchasing power lost to inflation from 2009-2014.

Board of Trustees president Dave Palmerlee cited better relations between trustees, administration, lawmakers, and community colleges as progress made under McGinity.

“President McGinity stepped up at an extremely challenging time in UW’s history,” Palmerlee said in a statement. “The board deeply appreciates his service, and he has the board’s full support as the search process moves forward.”

The first step for selecting the new president will be to organize the search process. That will begin in the next few weeks.

“The board has not determined many of the details of the search process, but we are in agreement on one point: We intend for the search to follow an ‘open’ approach, in which finalists are publicly identified,” Palmerlee said.

Faculty and staff have been calling for an open search for the next president for more than a year, Janak said. Their pleas came after the closed search of 2012-2013, which was forced open by an open-records lawsuit filed by the Casper Star-Tribune, the Wyoming Newspaper Group, and the Associated Press.

When the search process changed, four of eight qualified finalists dropped out. According to former Board of Trustees chairman Dave Bostrom, the eight finalists originally included five provosts, two sitting presidents, and a non-academic candidate.

University of Wyoming Foundation chairman Scott Neu served on two screening committees that recommended finalists to the trustees. He said that the search that resulted in hiring Sternberg suffered by moving from a closed to an open process. “If we were going to open it, it would have been far better to open it at the very beginning,” Neu said.

The university faces a competitive field for candidates because the pool of those qualified to serve as president is small. Across the nation’s 2,500 universities and colleges one-third of provosts — normally considered among the most qualified candidates — express interest in being president.

That fact was cited by former provost Myron Allen and associate provost Carol Frost, who drafted a 2012 white paper on planning for presidential succession before both stepped down from their positions under Sternberg. They recommended making a special call for women candidates, and creating a process to identify and support qualified internal candidates. Past internal hires for university president included botanist Aven Nelson, atmospheric scientist Donald Veal, and geographer Tom Buchanan, among others. See the list of all former UW presidents here.

UW president Dick McGinity speaks at the opening of the WPX Energy Drilling Simulator in October 2014. He formerly served on the board of Canada Southern Petroleum Ltd. (Gregory Nickerson/WyoFile)

Non-academic candidates with business or military backgrounds can be successful, Allen and Frost wrote, but they also face criticism from faculty who believe university presidents should have an academic background.

That was the case for some faculty who panned McGinity’s academic credentials. Though he holds a doctorate in business administration, McGinity taught for only a few years in UW’s College of Business. Before that he spent three decades on corporate boards including the board of Canada Southern Petroleum Ltd.

Selecting a president is the most important job of university trustees, according to the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. The group offers several publications on how to successfully select presidents.

For further reading:

Students and faculty question spate of resignations at University of Wyoming under Sternberg, by Gregory Nickerson, Nov. 5, 2013.
Robert Sternberg resigns as University of Wyoming president, by Gregory Nickerson, November 15, 2013.
Let the sunshine into the search for UW’s next president, by Kerry Drake, Nov. 19, 2013.
Open or Closed Search: Picking the next University of Wyoming president, by Gregory Nickerson, December 3, 2013.
Past UW leaders built a solid foundation for university’s future, by Carol Frost, Dec. 31, 2013.
Trustees discuss making Dick McGinity University of Wyoming president, by Gregory Nickerson, January 15, 2014.
UW flourishes with public, private backing, by Dick McGinity, Sept. 23, 2014.

 

Gregory Nickerson

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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