Trustees hear criticism of Nichols decision

By Daniel Bendtsen

Laramie Boomerang

Via Wyoming News Exchange

LARAMIE — Public comment periods at the University of Wyoming’s board of trustees meeting typically don’t generate much interest, but it was a different story this week when a group of faculty, staff and students came to the board meeting to lament the decision not to extend President Laurie Nichols’s contract.

Nichols’s three-year contract expires in June. It came as a surprise announcement Monday that the trustees would be moving on from the popular president this summer.

Alex Mulhall, president of UW’s student body, told the trustees that “students deserve as much transparency as possible in the search and hire of a new president.”

Mulhall said Monday’s announcement led to “a resounding shock among students" and thinks "that shock was the result of the positive interaction students have had with Laurie Nichols throughout her time at the university.”

She urged the trustees to better integrate the opinions of faculty, staff and students into their decision-making.

Both Staff Senate president Renee Ballard and Faculty Senate chairman Donal O’Toole also offered praise of Nichols and expressed confusion at the decision.

“This looks bad,” O’Toole said, urging the trustees to publicly and quickly lay out a plan for hiring Nichols’s replacement.

Two students who spoke also suggested that the trustees’ decision was a betrayal of the university community.

“The disgrace of this board’s decision is exacerbated by the fact that faculty, staff and students were intentionally excluded from the discussion surrounding the president’s tenure,” UW student Jordan Pierson said. “I can only imagine the reason for this decision is a result of President Nichols’s success. She has been a champion of students, faculty and staff and we’ve seen her compassion and hard work first-hand during her time here. She stood up for us to this very board and was apparently not successful enough in being a figurehead for members of this board.”

Merav Ben-David, Zoology and Physiology department head, urged the trustees to hire the university’s next president from within UW.

“Someone who knows this institution at its highest success,” she said.

Molly Marcusse, an archivist at the American Heritage Center, urged the trustees to explain their decision.

“I’m going to disagree with all the people who say this is a personnel matter and we don’t know the reason why,” she said. “We are a public land-grant institution. People who lead these institutions know that they’re in a position of accountability. I think that the people … who care about this university deserve an answer. These things don’t go away. It may seem like in a few months, people will no longer be asking questions and you don’t have to answer why this decision was made. … People are still trying to solve the Tom Horn murder of the 1900s. If an answer on (the Nichols ouster) is not provided, people will continue to search for an answer for decades.”