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Time for Travel and Networking

November 13, 2017

To the UW community:

Good Monday morning!

These past several days have been full of travel for me. As I write this, I am saying goodbye to my youngest daughter, Hannah, and traveling to Washington, D.C., to attend the annual conference of APLU (Association of Public and Land-grant Universities). I was in Las Cruces this weekend to attend the NMSU contemporary dance program’s fall performance titled “Human.” Hannah is a senior dance major at NMSU and performed and/or choreographed several of the dances. The entire performance was beautiful and as a proud mom, I must admit that watching Hannah dance was a highlight. It is hard for me to believe that she will graduate in May.

Today (Sunday), I will begin the APLU conference with an opening session this afternoon and continuing through noon Tuesday. Monday afternoon, I will moderate a panel on global engagement, specifically featuring the U.S.’s relationship with Canada and Mexico. I look forward to professional updates and networking with fellow presidents from other public research and land-grant universities.

Before I get to other business, I wish to say a big congratulations to both the women’s volleyball team, which had a three-set sweep over Nevada yesterday, and the football team, which brought home a win against the Air Force Academy, 28-14. At this point in the season, both of these were significant wins. The week at hand will see the volleyball team at home on Wednesday night taking on San Diego State, and Saturday we host our final regular-season football game against Fresno State. Best wishes for continued victories!

As we begin the second half of November, it is time to look toward the holidays. With that in mind, the meat lab is now accepting orders for the Holiday Meat Sale, from which all profits help to support the livestock, horse and meat judging teams. Cowboy Branded Meats are being offered through this sale as another way to put UW products in the hands of students, families and community members. Please check this out as a gift option.

I have received e-mails expressing concern about the recently proposed tax reform legislation due to impacts to higher education. On Thursday, Nov. 2, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) released the long-awaited text of tax reform legislation, the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.” On Thursday, Nov. 10, the Senate Finance Committee released its version of the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.” The House bill proposes elimination of Section 117(d) (qualified tuition reduction) and Section 127 (employer-provided educational assistance program). Section 117(d) allows institutions to provide tax-free tuition at no or reduced cost to employees, spouses or their dependents. Graduate student research and teaching assistants also benefit, in that the tuition remission they receive is not subject to taxation. Section 127 allows employers to provide up to $5,250 per year in assistance tax-free for any type of educational course at the undergraduate or graduate level. If passed into law, these proposed changes would have a substantial impact on the way most universities do business.

The Senate version, however, has preserved Section 117(d) (qualified tuition reduction) and Section 127 (employer-provided educational assistance program). Both bills are subject to change as they work their way through the process. In addition, if the House and the Senate pass different bills, the two versions will need to be reconciled in a conference committee before a final bill can be passed and sent to the president. We will closely follow the progress of both bills as we communicate proposed implications through Wyoming’s delegation. And we will update the campus community as soon as additional information becomes available.

Last week, I had the pleasure of hosting the UW Women’s Club for its fall luncheon. With about 40 in attendance, I offered a welcome and a few campus updates. Following lunch, we had the opportunity to hear from Mary Throne, who has declared her candidacy for governor. Mary served in Wyoming’s Legislature for a decade and shared her reasons for deciding to run for governor, as well as thoughts about Wyoming’s challenges and opportunities. It was an informative event.

Tuesday evening, I attended the Governor’s Business Forum reception and dinner. Hosted by the governor and first lady at their residence, the dinner guests included Business Forum speakers and sponsors. The forum took place Wednesday and Thursday of last week and included a wide range of topics.

I spent most of Wednesday and all of Thursday in Denver attending WICHE (Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education) meetings. As a newly appointed commissioner from Wyoming, I and eight other new appointees learned more about WICHE’s governance, structure, programs and budget during a Wednesday orientation. Governor Mead appointed two new commissioners this year, myself and legislator Fred Baldwin. We join continuing commissioner Karla Leach of Western Wyoming Community College. WICHE is a 45-plus-year-old consortium of 15 Western states and territories that promotes affordable student exchanges and offers graduate education in fields that many states cannot offer alone. In Wyoming, these programs include veterinary medicine, medical education, and physical and occupational therapy. WICHE has also been a leader in improving the transfer process for students, with an innovative program called Passport. This past year, 26,000 students transferred on the Passport program -- a significant number, and growing. Under the leadership of Dr. Anne Alexander, UW will align our general education curriculum to be a Passport university. This is critically important, as Laramie County Community College is already a Passport college, as are several community colleges in Colorado and surrounding states.

The meeting continued on Thursday, when we received updates on the Western Undergraduate Exchange program, professional and graduate program exchanges, and focused updates on mental health and cybersecurity. We also heard from speakers on the topics of free speech on campus and DACA. The commission meeting was held on the campus of Metropolitan State University in downtown Denver, where we stayed at the hospitality program’s student-run hotel, and enjoyed several meals catered by its culinary classes. We also toured new facilities for aerospace engineering and the student-run brewery, a laboratory of the university’s brew program.

It was an informative first commission meeting for me, and I look forward to becoming more involved in WICHE as I go.

One final event to report to you. On Friday, I spent much of the day in Jackson, where I provided the keynote address at the Jackson Women’s Summit, sponsored by the nonprofit organization Womentum. With about 200 women in attendance, the summit began with lunch catered by the Central Wyoming College culinary program, followed by my address and then a networking dessert. The program continued on Saturday with a series of workshops. This was the fifth year for the Jackson Women’s Summit, which appears to truly be gaining momentum as participation and impact grow. Appropriately, my talk was on women’s leadership, including stories of my own journey. With a robust Q&A following my remarks, I was struck by the talent and drive of this group of women leaders. It was an honor to join them and kick off their annual meeting.

Now, to the week at hand….

I want to draw your attention to this week’s Board of Trustees meeting, which will be held on campus this week from Wednesday-Friday. The agenda includes a variety of topics -- let me highlight a few that may be of interest to you: establishing an educational attainment goal for Wyoming; final action on proposed program fees; introduction and establishing a timeline for setting 2018-19 tuition; sharing of a proposed salary policy by task force co-chairs; update on the Science Initiative and building plans; introduction to a proposed program in outdoor recreation and tourism; and introduction of a concept to develop an Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. With the exception of the committee meetings on Wednesday, the meeting will be held at Coe Library, and I encourage you to attend. 

Dr. Tracy Patton’s cross-cultural communication class includes a strong service learning component, this year focusing on the national and international issue of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSS, formerly known as PTSD). To raise awareness in Laramie, they are hosting a “Chili Cook-off for a Cause” which also involves local Laramie restaurants and businesses. All funds raised by this event will be donated to the Albany County Safe Project, an organization that supports those suffering from PTSS. The chili cook-off is Friday, Nov. 17, at War Memorial Fieldhouse from 5-8 p.m. The cost is $5 per person, or $20 for groups of five or larger. Prizes for best chili will be given, and those participating include Perkins, Sweet Melissa’s, Altitude, Coal Creek, Jeffery’s, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, The Verge and The Point. I hope you can attend to enjoy delicious chili, support our students and raise funds for this important cause. 

Dr. Hannah Jang-Condell of the Department of Physics and Astronomy will host a conference Nov. 13-17 at the UW Conference Center titled “Habitable Worlds.” With about 150 scientists registered, the conference will discuss their search for and identification of planets capable of supporting life. Best wishes, Dr. Jang-Condell! 

Another important happening is Geography Awareness Week this week, which promotes the relevance of geography in educating citizens to understand pressing social and environmental issues. This year’s theme is “The Geography of Civil Rights Movements,” with a keynote by Dr. Rashad Shabazz on Thursday at 5 p.m. in the Berry Center auditorium. Thank you to the Department of Geography, the Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center, the Wyoming Geographic Alliance and two recognized student organizations, the Geography Club and the Multicultural Association of Student Scientists. 

This evening, the 2017 Wallop Conversations on Democracy Program will feature Mr. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, former secretary general of NATO and former prime minister of Denmark. 

Finally, it is also International Education Week at UW. Many sessions have been planned to share opportunities and resources available to students to internationalize their education. Please consult the link with a listing of programs/sessions. I hope you can attend a few of these to learn more. 

I know there are more events scheduled, such as the Women in Entrepreneurship program on Friday afternoon. Please consult the university calendar for details and locations of all events. 

Have a great week! 

Laurie Nichols, President

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