University of Wyoming

By Wyoming Tribune Eagle editorial board

— This Wyoming Tribune Eagle editorial was originally published on Sept. 13, and is republished with permission — Ed.

The issue: A recent news report told a tale of fear and paranoia at the University of Wyoming in the wake of legislative meddling.

We believe: Lawmakers are selling the school’s academic freedom to the energy industry. They need to back off.

Tell us what you think: Contact us via email at opinion@wyomingnews.com.

What is the value of academic freedom? That’s the question all Wyomingites should be asking themselves. To state lawmakers, it is a commodity that can be bought and sold, like coal or oil.

What legislators can’t seem to grasp is that without academic freedom, an institute of higher learning ceases to flourish. Students and their professors fail to discover new technologies, or find better and cheaper ways to do things, or make breakthroughs in science or engineering.

Without free thought, a university begins to degrade. Soon, the brightest minds move on, which is what has been happening at the University of Wyoming over the last few years.

What was once non-negotiable at UW now has a price tag on it. Lawmakers have sold the school to the highest bidder – the energy industry – and in the process, academic freedom has been discarded. The more legislators meddle in UW’s affairs, the more the school loses its purpose, which is to open up young minds to exploration and discovery.

University of Wyoming Student Union building. (Courtesy University of Wyoming)

In WyoFile’s recent analysis of the distrust that persists at UW, the calm that was supposed to come with UW President Dick McGinity’s appointment after Robert Sternberg resigned last November has never arrived. In fact, several members of UW’s faculty refused to be interviewed for the article, fearing repercussions.

And can you blame them? When lawmakers like state Rep. Tom Lubnau, R-Gillette, threaten to cut funding to UW for allowing a sculpture on campus critical of the energy industry, the faculty gets the message: Speak up and it could be you next time.

Unfortunately, UW trustees and administrators have refused to stand up to bully lawmakers like Mr. Lubnau – and to stand up for academic freedom. Previous President Tom Buchanan folded like a blanket under pressure to remove the “Carbon Sink” sculpture that caused such a stir.

But the blame for UW’s woes lies with legislators. These same lawmakers would fight to the death to protect the Second Amendment or against intrusion from the federal government, but they have no problem eroding academic freedom. Their micromanaging has not produced a better school; it has created only uncertainty and paranoia.

Even after sending Mr. Buchanan scurrying, lawmakers didn’t stop. They demanded that UW’s trustees approve all art on campus to make sure nothing controversial appeared there. So much for a free exchange of ideas.

Enter Mr. Sternberg, hired in secret. After cleaning house, he was forced out. That whole brouhaha created even more distrust. Then lawmakers began making demands to meet with the trustees and other school officials. None of that is their job.

Legislators need to reset their moral compasses. They are destroying free expression at the state’s only university in the name of the almighty dollar. They are degrading the quality of UW, and they are preventing the sort of innovation that could, in the end, save the very energy industry they are protecting. They need to back off and let UW do its job, free of fear and retaliation.

We think Wyomingites want a university that they can be proud of. That won’t happen if the Legislature continues to meddle in school affairs. It’s time to start asking questions and demanding answers from our elected representatives.

— Read the original publication at the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.
— Read University of Wyoming President Dick McGinity’s response.
— Read the WyoFile feature, “University of Wyoming attempts to rebuild after Sternberg shakeup,” September 2, 2014.

— Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact WyoFile editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer at dustin@wyofile.com.

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  1. I’m at a loss, from this article, just who should the University be answerable to. The faculty? That would be the lunatics running the asylum. The press? Please. Is the argument the legislature should just give a big block grant to the University and forget about it?

  2. I’m at a loss, from this article, just who should the University be answerable to. The faculty? That would be the lunatics running the asylum. The press? Please. Is the argument the legislature should just give a big block grant to the University and forget about it?

  3. It is a perversity of Wyoming’s history that we have but a single 4-year college in this state, and a Land Grant University at that. LGU’s were established during the Civil War era to establish colleges where there were none, and emphasize agriculture, engineering, military science (!?!?) and physical science. LGU’s were not strong on liberal arts, humanities, the teaching of education training or even law, and many other curricula. And no where in the enabling legislation and subsequent grants did it say anything about football and basketball. The result of all this in the 21st century is regressive Wyoming has indeed sold its soul to the perverse phianthopy of energy and mineral benefactors , King Coal and Big Oil and Lord Fat Gas . Our football stadium, at first a War Memorial edifice, now shares its name with the state’s eminent natural gas play , Jonas Field. Back in the 1990’s the nhigh minded Stockgrowers were dead serious about defunding the entire UW College of Law because a professor wrote a heckuva exposé on the negative impacts of public lands ranching. The Stockgrowers have since ceded their control of the UW Inquisitors/ Regents to the Hydrocarbon Hegemony. Examples of that situation require more space than this publication has room to display suffice to say, Welcome to Modern Wyoming. Here is your hardhat.

    Montana is half again larger that Wyoming in geographical size and population. Without the largesse of a massive hydrocarbon energy to swell state revenue coffers, Montana somehow still seems to fund seven 4-year public colleges, including four very diverse University level institutions that favor baccalaureate degrees in teaching, business, technology, and those pesky liberal arts and humanities. Montana also supports a heap of junior colleges and parochial schools, and a good run of Native American schools.

    Why is that contrast and output in secondary education so stark when comparing Wyoming and Montana, or Wyoming and any other state surrounding it ? Because Wyoming’s notion of higher education has always been conservative, regressive, and well behind the national curve. Quite simply , we allowed the University of Wyoming of 1886 ( it was in fact founded four years before statehood ) to remain the UW of the 21st century. Those charts of ratings that continually show Wyoming is a ” top ranked university ” fail to account for the lack of diversity and opportunity in the honing of UW’s graduates. The ratings are based on affordability of the school, and why not? —we as a state only have one institute to pay for and not a lot of students to enroll there. How easy for a single dominant industry to subvert the only university . To shape in its own political image. Done, and done . The skyboxes that rim the stadium are State’s Exhibit A.

    It is WELL past the time that Casper College became an independent 4-year state college without pandering to a football team , and instead was dedicated to more intrinsic curriculae. The world around Wyoming needs computer scientists and software engineers, not football players and petroleum geologists. For starters.

    Where is Wyoming State College ? Is the shadow of UW really so large and coal black that it obscures higher education ? Yup.

  4. It is a perversity of Wyoming’s history that we have but a single 4-year college in this state, and a Land Grant University at that. LGU’s were established during the Civil War era to establish colleges where there were none, and emphasize agriculture, engineering, military science (!?!?) and physical science. LGU’s were not strong on liberal arts, humanities, the teaching of education training or even law, and many other curricula. And no where in the enabling legislation and subsequent grants did it say anything about football and basketball. The result of all this in the 21st century is regressive Wyoming has indeed sold its soul to the perverse phianthopy of energy and mineral benefactors , King Coal and Big Oil and Lord Fat Gas . Our football stadium, at first a War Memorial edifice, now shares its name with the state’s eminent natural gas play , Jonas Field. Back in the 1990’s the nhigh minded Stockgrowers were dead serious about defunding the entire UW College of Law because a professor wrote a heckuva exposé on the negative impacts of public lands ranching. The Stockgrowers have since ceded their control of the UW Inquisitors/ Regents to the Hydrocarbon Hegemony. Examples of that situation require more space than this publication has room to display suffice to say, Welcome to Modern Wyoming. Here is your hardhat.

    Montana is half again larger that Wyoming in geographical size and population. Without the largesse of a massive hydrocarbon energy to swell state revenue coffers, Montana somehow still seems to fund seven 4-year public colleges, including four very diverse University level institutions that favor baccalaureate degrees in teaching, business, technology, and those pesky liberal arts and humanities. Montana also supports a heap of junior colleges and parochial schools, and a good run of Native American schools.

    Why is that contrast and output in secondary education so stark when comparing Wyoming and Montana, or Wyoming and any other state surrounding it ? Because Wyoming’s notion of higher education has always been conservative, regressive, and well behind the national curve. Quite simply , we allowed the University of Wyoming of 1886 ( it was in fact founded four years before statehood ) to remain the UW of the 21st century. Those charts of ratings that continually show Wyoming is a ” top ranked university ” fail to account for the lack of diversity and opportunity in the honing of UW’s graduates. The ratings are based on affordability of the school, and why not? —we as a state only have one institute to pay for and not a lot of students to enroll there. How easy for a single dominant industry to subvert the only university . To shape in its own political image. Done, and done . The skyboxes that rim the stadium are State’s Exhibit A.

    It is WELL past the time that Casper College became an independent 4-year state college without pandering to a football team , and instead was dedicated to more intrinsic curriculae. The world around Wyoming needs computer scientists and software engineers, not football players and petroleum geologists. For starters.

    Where is Wyoming State College ? Is the shadow of UW really so large and coal black that it obscures higher education ? Yup.

  5. Well, that article is kind of a “DUH! That has been clear for several years.” The Carbon Sink, the board not disclosing their debt to the mineral industry, the board’s refusal to stand up to the Governor on the science curriculum. OF COURSE the University is in the pocket of the Governor, the front man for the mineral industry. Is the Pope Catholic? Stop posting the obvious. This is not news, it has been very evident for years. There better not be anybody actually surprised about this.

  6. Dear Lousewort,
    What’s regressive is dodging transparency. Who are you and whose payroll are you on? Knowing that would enable readers to know your agenda.

    1. No, what is regressive is journalists and politicians creating a polarized information landscape for their own benefit. Slippery labels(big coal, deniers ) that prevent any meaningful discussion for the common sense of the common good. Patterns of behavior that keep things polarized (confirmation bias, wherein we selectively glean information that supports our preexisting beliefs).

      Don Diego de la Vega

    2. No, what is regressive is journalists and politicians creating a polarized information landscape for their own benefit. Slippery labels(big coal, deniers ) that prevent any meaningful discussion for the common sense of the common good. Patterns of behavior that keep things polarized (confirmation bias, wherein we selectively glean information that supports our preexisting beliefs).

      Don Diego de la Vega

  7. From the media that believes in ” hypothetical consensus science”. Special interest politics and journalism are equally regressive to academic talent and the future of any intellectual system for the common good. Both sides need to evolve.