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A Fascinating Book, Enrollment Planning, Trustee Actions and More

March 27, 2017

To the UW community:

Good Monday morning! I am breaking from my tradition of writing to you on Sunday evening and instead, I am composing my weekly message on this lovely Saturday afternoon. Tomorrow morning I leave for Washington, D.C., where the purpose of the trip is a mix of congressional visits and meeting donors and alumni who reside in the D.C. area. The Center for Global Studies along with the Alumni Association and Foundation have co-developed this trip to D.C., and the itinerary looks terrific. More on this next week!

Some time ago I shared with you that a personal goal this year was to read books authored by UW’s faculty. This weekend I finished a book by Dr. Bob Kelly, titled “The Fifth Beginning: What six million years of human history can tell us about our future.” Many of you know Bob Kelly, who serves as professor of anthropology and is a well-known scholar in his field. Professor Kelly dropped this newly published book by my office in November with a note, “President Nichols, Welcome to UW.” I immediately took it home and placed it on the nightstand. It took me a while to get to the book (the nightstand stack is tall), but once I started, I could hardly put it down. Dr. Kelly writes for non-archaeologists (or perhaps novice archaeologists) and helps us understand four key points in the 6 million-year history of humans. He ends his book by using this history as a basis to look to the fifth beginning -- what’s to come. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire book, but one of my favorite chapters was Chapter 5, titled, “Bread and Beer: The Beginning of Agriculture.” My farm background and love for agriculture made this chapter really interesting. It is a fascinating read, written in a personal, conversational style -- and comes to you highly recommended by me. Congratulations, Dr. Kelly. Well done!

I hope you had the opportunity to attend or view the spring faculty and staff meeting, held last Tuesday afternoon. Several of us provided updates on a wide range of topics, including the strategic plan, academic program review, WyoCloud, FY18 budget reduction and Wyoming Excellence fund, sexual assault prevention campaign, and an update on several key searches for leadership positions.

However, much of the meeting centered on presenting the Strategic Enrollment Management Plan for UW. Rose Martinelli, a consultant from Huron, has worked with a task force of UW faculty and staff over the past five months to develop this plan. The group has taken a deep dive into our own student data to better understand student outcomes. Next, they use the data as a basis for developing a plan for student success (primarily focused on improving retention and graduation rates), and then added modest growth for transfer students and incoming first-year students. The Power Point is posted and worth reviewing, if you have not seen it. In addition, I would encourage you to watch the WyoCast of this presentation in particular. It is informative and provides an overview of our work ahead to improve enrollment and student success. I am very excited about the direction that this plan provides to our campus. While details still need fleshing out, it is a strong roadmap that will yield positive enrollment and student success outcomes. I wish to thank all who were heavily involved in its development.

Last Tuesday, I attended Governor Mead’s cabinet meeting. The governor assembles his full cabinet each quarter to provide updates and to listen to questions or concerns. Since the Legislature had just concluded, much of the discussion centered on the outcomes of the session, as well as planning that must happen between now and July 1 to meet budget reductions. Governor Mead also talked about a few key pieces of legislation that passed and have been signed into law. I enjoy these meetings, as it has helped me to meet leaders of the many state agencies, hear their issues or successes and, in several cases, to follow up so as to forge stronger relations. I left feeling as though UW is well ahead of others in working through out budget reduction for FY18.

Last Tuesday, the UW Foundation hosted a luncheon with UniWyo President Dave Krause and several other UniWyo employees. Dave is fairly new to Laramie, coming most recently from Kentucky but originally from Colorado. Our conversation covered several topics, with a major discussion about ideas to ramp up financial literacy education to our students. Although debt among our in-state students is very low, financial need for out-of-state students is higher. Great efforts have been made over the past two years in partnership with UniWyo, and we hope to do even more in the future. I thank them for their support of UW.

I also was able to spend an hour with two finalists who were on campus interviewing for the chief diversity officer position. We have two more interviewing this week, so please attend one of the sessions and provide your feedback! You can check here for CVs and interview schedules for the final two finalists. We highly value your participation and feedback on each candidate.

Tuesday evening began the Board of Trustees meeting, with a thank-you and farewell dinner for Dave Palmerlee and Mike Massie. The dinner was lovely, and I appreciated the comments offered to Dave and Mike for their service to the Board of Trustees, as well as their comments about serving on the board. I will miss Dave and Mike, as Dave was president of the board when I was hired and, thus, my first contact with Wyoming. I will also miss Mike’s vast knowledge of UW and the state. Our new trustees were at the dinner as well, so it was nice to welcome David Fall and Kermit Brown to the board. Like all board members, they will bring unique backgrounds and expertise. I look forward to working with them.

The March board meeting was intense! Committees met Wednesday morning, and the board convened Wednesday after lunch, concluding after lunch on Friday. Many topics were covered, and I will report on just a few here.

Tara Evans, university general counsel, provided an example of the work she is leading to restructure and better organize our regulatory structure. This includes the university regulations, presidential directives, board directives and university policies. The idea is to take many, many policies and place them into a web-based manual at one of three levels: University Regulation (level A, which requires trustee approval), Standard Administrative Policy (level B, which requires president approval) and Department/Unit Administrative Policy (level C, with dean or unit administrator approval). The manual will be organized into 12 sections that closely align with our university divisions. The timeline for this project is early 2018, although it may go longer if needed. Two trustees were assigned to work with Tara on this project. While this is a very big undertaking, it will serve the university well into the future as we streamline, better organize and update our policies and regulations. I offer a huge thank you to Tara for leading such a big project.

You have already read that the Voluntary Separation Incentive Program was approved at a larger savings than we had originally requested. This means we can accept a few more faculty into the program. With David Jewell, I also provided a glimpse into the FY18 budget, including meeting our final block grant reductions and reallocating funds internally so as to address structural deficits in our budget (utilities, salaries and Oracle software being the three major ones). Another success was approval to use nearly all of the 2017-18 tuition increase for salaries. This is a departure from the tuition policy for one cycle of tuition increase and will allow us to build a pool for a salary increase. I thank ASUW, which supported this request. The hope is to offer employees a salary increase next spring.

Perhaps the disappointing outcome of the meeting was that the trustees did not approve the program fee request. In fact, due to concerns expressed by ASUW and a resulting resolution, as well as concerns by some trustees themselves, I requested that the fee proposal be tabled, which allows us to work further on finding common ground. The trustees agreed. The program fee committee, under the leadership of Rob Godby and Daniel Kerbs or his replacement, will continue to work on a refinement of the program fee proposal this spring and summer. We understand that we need to allow a longer period to notify prospective or current students impacted by the fee, and we also know that the amount of fees may be too high. Thus, more work is needed. I cannot thank Dr. Godby and Daniel -- along with the program fee implementation committee -- enough for their hard work. They have spent hours and hours on this task, above and beyond their normal duties. I want to add that I am optimistic that we will get to a positive outcome with program fees, but not until fall of 2018.

After perhaps a disappointment Thursday afternoon with program fees, Friday morning was positive and exciting. A wonderful presentation was made by Associate Vice President Anne Alexander and Director Susan Aronstein (and two students) on the future of Honors at UW. The board was impressed and asked that we move as quickly as possible to position the Honors Program in an even more central and visible manner, accepting more students. This was followed by an inspiring presentation by state Sen. Affie Ellis, James Trosper, Sara Axelson and myself on American Indian initiatives to grow enrollment and improve retention. Among other things, a Native American Summer Institute and American Indian Center were presented. Again, the board was most supportive. I am very excited about both of these initiatives, as they target specific populations that we want to increase on our campus. I look forward to supporting both in any way I can.

Other action items included approving the restructuring of Academic Affairs as presented by Provost Miller, and approval of several fees and differential tuition rates. Provost Miller also provided a first draft of the strategic plan and invited feedback. I believe the campus will receive the same draft this week, with an invitation to provide feedback as well. As this is perhaps the most important document for the university, please offer your feedback and suggestions! And I thank the leadership council members who have put in a great deal of time on this draft, who will accept your feedback and work on draft No. 2! (I am working on my feedback to you right now.) Thank you.

One last item of discussion and approval was on residence halls. The bulk of this discussion occurred in the Facilities Committee, but the board approved the following:

-- Develop a comprehensive, 10-year housing plan for UW which includes all residence halls, including construction of new halls, renovation of existing halls, apartments and other housing options on campus.

-- Develop a Phase I plan for new construction of 2-3 new residence halls, demolition of existing halls, and a heating/cooling/power auxiliary plant. This plan will be a modification of Phase I in the October 2015 trustee housing report.

I was so pleased with this level of approval to move forward. A comprehensive housing plan is needed at UW and, if done well, will provide a roadmap for not only the next few new residence halls, but for renovation of existing halls, plans for fraternity and sorority housing, and any future plans for apartments and family housing. In many ways, this will be much like a campus master plan, only focusing on housing. Work will begin in earnest in April, with hopes for a plan ready by the November board meeting. Please stay tuned!

And now I need to pack and get ready for Washington, D.C. I will see you back on campus on Wednesday.

I conclude by wishing the Cowboys success in the CBI tournament as we play for the championship. Game 2 is in Laramie on Wednesday evening. Go Pokes!

I also note that there are a couple of lectures this week that look very good. I hope you can take one of these in as well.

Have a great week!

Laurie Nichols, President

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