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UW: An Exciting Present and a Very Bright Future

January 8, 2015
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Richard C. McGinity

By Richard C. McGinity

It has been about a year since I was appointed by the University of Wyoming Board of Trustees as UW’s 25th president. On the occasion of that anniversary and, at the midpoint of the 2014-15 academic year, it’s worth taking a few moments to make note of where the university stands -- and what the future may hold.

To begin, it’s important for everyone to recognize that UW today faces an array of opportunities that are as great as at any time in its 127-year history to pursue and achieve unprecedented excellence.

It’s clear to me that UW administrators, faculty and staff all share a desire for UW to achieve excellence -- as do the citizens of Wyoming, their governor and legislators. It also should be observed that, due to the commitment of that same governor and Legislature, UW is the envy of our land-grant university competitors in terms of the support it receives from our state. This support arises from the citizens of Wyoming being united in expecting that UW achieve excellence in areas important to them and to the state as a whole. They are entitled to that expectation of their university.

Acknowledgment of this expectation is embodied in this administration’s three main goals, which center on preparing students to compete and succeed in a global economy; achieving measurable and improving excellence in defined areas of academic distinction; and improving statewide engagement. Let me describe just a few of the initiatives that have been launched during the last 12 months in pursuit of these three goals.

Faculty and staff compensation: Faculty and staff salaries remain UW’s most pressing problem. In order to address the problem, UW needs both state funding and revenue from modest tuition increases. An improved relationship with legislators is crucial to obtaining state funding necessary to bring UW’s salaries closer to those of our competitors. UW’s trustees and administration are undertaking to do exactly that, and other UW faculty and staff members can help by embracing collaborative approaches with lawmakers and other external constituencies.

Science Initiative: One of the most promising initiatives in the university’s history -- the Science Initiative, which will transform science education at UW and ultimately K-14 across the state -- has woven the ideas of numerous university science faculty into a plan endorsed by a governor-appointed panel of top scholars and organizational leaders. The plan will result in major investments in programs and facilities that will dramatically enhance instruction and research opportunities for undergraduates, while benefiting UW and the state in other ways. The combination of some of the best minds on campus working collaboratively among themselves, and directly with external supporters, greatly increases the likelihood that the Science Initiative will receive support from the state’s elected leaders. I am eager to see similar approaches employed in other parts of UW’s academic enterprise, and confident that doing so will attract additional resources to UW in ways that will enhance the education of our students, add to the research opportunities of our faculty, and benefit the citizens of our state.

Capital construction: A number of important capital projects are underway or about to begin. The Michael B. Enzi STEM Facility will accept its first classes of students in fall 2015. In early 2015, UW will break ground on the High Bay Research Facility, an important component of UW’s Engineering Initiative. The facility will provide a home for some of the university’s world-class researchers in the School of Energy Resources and the College of Engineering and Applied Science. An expanded engineering building resulting from the Engineering Initiative will follow, along with planning for improved undergraduate residence halls. Combined, without even including completion of the privately funded, stunningly impressive and useful Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center, these projects are dwarfing any period of capital construction in UW’s history. Individually and together, these projects are directed to a single end: achieving the steadily growing levels of educational and research excellence expected by the people of Wyoming,

Community college relationships: At the behest of the Legislature in its 2014 session, UW is working intensively with its community college partners to eliminate administrative and curricular issues hindering the transfer of course credits of students transferring from community colleges to UW. The university attracts about 1,100 students from its community college partners each year, and the credit transfer process is far less transparent and seamless to the students than they deserve. Starting with the 17 degree programs most popular among transfer students, UW and the seven colleges are developing articulation agreements that will result in “2+2” course roadmaps (119 in total). These will spell out the community college courses that meet UW’s specific degree requirements, enabling high school seniors -- whether they decide to begin their schooling at UW or at Wyoming’s community colleges -- to see clearly the paths to their chosen bachelor’s degrees in four years.

Administration: A year ago, UW was reacting to a period of administrative turmoil, with a green leadership team and four of its seven colleges led by interim deans. Those who stepped in to fill these vital administrative and academic leadership roles deserve our respect and appreciation. Today, UW is benefiting greatly with Bill Mai serving as vice president for administration following a two-and-half-year vacancy in that office, and with David Jones as vice president for academic affairs. Searches for the four interim deanships are now well advanced, each one led by an experienced senior administrator.

Strategic plan: The university is nearing completion of its fourth multiyear planning process. Far from being a “top-down” approach to determining the university’s future, the draft executive summary document synthesizes concisely, at a university-wide level, draft plans already developed by academic and administrative units which will continue to be discussed, revised and refined. The university community and UW’s numerous constituencies, statewide, have been invited to comment on the summary document, which will guide UW’s decision-making and resource allocation for the next six years -- and create a foundation for UW’s progress over the next few decades.

To summarize, these initiatives demonstrate that UW has been using its advantages over its competitors to pursue the excellence in student instruction, research and statewide service that the university community and the citizens of Wyoming are entitled to expect. UW’s present is exciting, and its future is bright. Stay tuned … and watch closely!

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