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A Fruitful Trip to Arizona, Legislative Update and More

February 27, 2017

To the UW community:

Good morning! This week closes out February and welcomes March. As is often the case, spring semester is going very quickly. For those of us who are not huge winter fans (I happen to be one of those), the thought that spring may be just around the corner is uplifting!

As I write this message, I am on a flight returning from a busy week in the Phoenix area. The UW Foundation held its winter board meeting in Scottsdale last Thursday and Friday. The Alumni Association held several alumni gatherings as well, including a luncheon on Wednesday for those who live on the west side of the Phoenix metro area; an evening gathering in Tucson on Wednesday; and a large 200-plus Phoenix metro alumni event in Scottsdale on Thursday evening. In addition, I had the opportunity to meet with a few donors over lunch or dinner, to discuss their past gifts and future interest in supporting the university. Since Board of Trustees President John MacPherson has a winter home in Scottsdale, Tim and I enjoyed breakfast on Saturday morning with John and Cathy at their lovely home.

I met many alumni for the first time and continue to be impressed with the deep commitment of our alumni to the University of Wyoming. I heard many stories of our alumni’s college experiences and their appreciation for the strong education received at UW. It is impressive to hear the career successes of our alumni; many hold top leadership positions in businesses and corporations. Their interest in the university remains strong, and they genuinely want to stay connected to UW and Wyoming. The Foundation board meeting was also quite successful, with significant time spent on the investment portfolio of the endowment, as well as discussion of a future capital campaign to support the strategic plan. The board welcomed a new member, Doug Stark, president and CEO of Farm Credit Services of America.

I have been watching Arizona State University for the past few years in their phenomenal growth, so on Thursday morning Dean Pishko and I spent several hours at ASU visiting leaders from the Division of Research and Economic Development (ASU calls it Knowledge Enterprise Development), and the president’s office initiatives on marketing, community engagement and enterprise development. It was informative to see their organization and staffing, and learn about their entrepreneurial culture and nimbleness so as to move quickly and take advantage of emerging opportunities. I was also impressed to learn that they now have three campuses in the Phoenix area and are currently at 70,000 students -- with plans to grow to 100,000 students in the future. Dean Pishko was also able to visit their research-like park, SkySong. It is a mixed-use project featuring commercial space, ASU’s incubator, retail, restaurant, hotel and apartments. I felt the visit was highly productive, with potential applications to us as we think about hiring a new vice president for research and economic development, and ramp up branding and marketing in the next few years.

Last Monday, I had the opportunity to meet with the Faculty Senate Executive Committee. We discussed several topics, including enrollment growth, enhanced efforts to recruit academically strong students to UW, and the role of private giving to enhance our strategic efforts. Through all of this, we talked about the role of the Faculty Senate and its ability to discuss and respond to a growing number of items. It was a good conversation, and I was reminded once again how important a strong Faculty Senate is to a thriving university. Thank you to all of our faculty senators!

Several have asked me about the strategic plan, so I asked Provost Miller for an update. A writing group has been identified from the Leadership Council and is working on developing a first draft for campus review. The draft is based on review of literally hundreds of pages of notes taken from the many listening sessions. At this point, they are identifying big themes that have emerged from the input process. The group has also reviewed the mission statement. The next meeting of the leadership group is this Friday, March 3. They look forward to sharing the first draft, sometime after spring break.

Tim and I also enjoyed dinner at the Tri Delta sorority house on Monday evening, where we dined with nearly 100 young women and several alumni. We appreciated the opportunity to tour the house and were very impressed with the charm, size and functionality of the house. And the members were equally impressive -- we met students from throughout Wyoming and from many other states. A big thanks to the Tri Delts for such a lovely evening!

I want to be sure to update you on the Legislature, and I thank Chris Boswell for providing a detailed update for this Monday communication.

 

The Wyoming Legislature enters the eighth and final week of the 2017 session today, with a budget compromise now in hand and likely to be voted upon later this afternoon. UW faces an additional budget cut of approximately $500,000 to our block grant for FY18 under the compromise agreed to by the Joint Conference Committee of the House and Senate. That reduction is half the amount that had been proposed by both the Joint Appropriations Committee and the House of Representatives, so I suppose we can be appreciative that the cut was not deeper than that which is now in the budget. Nevertheless, the reduction adds to the challenges ahead for the university. Throughout the budget process, members of the Legislature regularly noted their appreciation and even admiration for the university’s handling of significant reductions to the block grant at a time of severely reduced state revenues.

The budget conferees reversed course and retained a footnote directing UW to seek a meeting with the City of Laramie in order to discuss the possible vacation of 15th Street between Ivinson Avenue and Willett Drive. The legislators who proposed the footnote seek to eliminate routine vehicular traffic on these blocks of 15th Street in order to enhance the safety of pedestrians crossing this busy street.

The budget will likely be delivered to the governor this afternoon, and he will have three days to either sign, veto or allow the bill to become law without his signature. The governor can also exercise his line-item veto authority on the budget bill. It’s likely the Legislature will stay in session until the end of the week in order to consider override actions if the governor vetoes any part of the bill.

House Bill 136, which would have allowed the carrying of concealed firearms on UW property, was defeated by the Wyoming Senate last week, with 17 of the 30 members of the Senate voting against this bill. The bill would have taken away the authority of the UW Board of Trustees to determine whether firearms could be carried on campus. UW students, faculty, staff and the UW administration had all testified on the importance of maintaining the existing university authority, and I am grateful the Senate chose to defeat a bill that would have allowed weapons in residence halls, classrooms and labs, athletic events, child-oriented programs, and anywhere else on campus, without limitation.

I am happy to report that Senate File 166 -- which sought to cut $48.8 million from the Science Initiative facility appropriation made during the 2017 session -- died without a hearing in the House of Representatives. The entire $100 million appropriation remains whole, and we will continue with legislatively funded building design and property purchases for this important facility, which will be located at Ninth and Lewis streets.

Senate File 136, which extends the sunset of funding for the successful Energy Science Graduate Stipends programs, passed third and final reading in the House on Friday.

As expected, Senate File 95, an early retirement bill, died in the House. That bill had originally been drafted to include UW employees, but the university was amended out of the bill in the Senate. UW will continue with our faculty Voluntary Separation Incentive Program, details of which are available here.

Today is the last day for bills to be considered on Committee of the Whole in the second house, and we will be monitoring a few other pieces of legislation which impact UW. I’ll report on the fate of those bills next week.

Pending a likely Senate confirmation this week, we will welcome two new and two returning members to the UW Board of Trustees. Board President John MacPherson of Saratoga and Secretary Jeff Marsh of Torrington have been nominated for their second terms. We expect to welcome two new members to the board in March: Gillette pediatrician Dr. David Fall, and Laramie attorney and former Speaker of the House of Representatives Kermit Brown. I want to offer my heartfelt thanks to two departing members of the board, Dave Palmerlee and Mike Massie. Trustee Palmerlee’s two terms on the board included two years as president, and he has been particularly passionate in his efforts to strengthen the College of Education through the Trustees Education Initiative. Trustee Massie was appointed to fill the unexpired term of the late Warren Lauer, and brought decades of experience to his service on behalf of the university. We are grateful to both for their wisdom, commitment and service. They will be missed.

I end this Monday communication by offering my heartfelt sympathy to Trustee Dave Bostrom and his family. Dave’s wife, Jeri Bostrom, died unexpectedly last week due to a stroke. The funeral is today in Worland, and several of us are traveling to attend the funeral and pay our respects to the Bostrom family. Please keep them in your thoughts.

I end by wishing you a great week.

Laurie Nichols, President


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