‘Chaos in the college': University of Wyoming law school meeting with president gets testy

2013-11-09T06:00:00Z ‘Chaos in the college': University of Wyoming law school meeting with president gets testyBy LAURA HANCOCK Star-Tribune staff writer Casper Star-Tribune Online

LARAMIE – The Friday afternoon meeting started plainly.

University of Wyoming President Bob Sternberg explained recent resignations of university administrators to about 100 law students, faculty and alumni. Sternberg took the helm of UW on July 1. Since then, the provost, three associate provosts and four deans have resigned. Sternberg explained to students that some were asked to resign.

But then one of those administrators stood up and protested.

“I’m prepared to lay out my case as to why you have not treated this law school ethically," said Stephen Easton to Sternberg.

Easton resigned last week as dean of the College of Law because he said no one sought his input on task force being assembled to look at the law.

Heated words

Words got heated as Easton and Sternberg disagreed about how the meeting should be organized.

“I feel like he’s hijacked the meeting,” Sternberg said of Easton.

Some of Easton’s statements received applause from the audience, and at one point, Richard McGinity, the interim vice president for academic affairs, stepped in to save the president.

“I think from a legal or a procedural standing, I may be raising something called a point of order,” McGinity said. “But the expectation or the intention of some of us was it was to be a town meeting for an hour with questions and answers. If there should be or needs to be an event or meeting of the sort that Steve [Easton] described, I don’t have any problem with that, but now is not the time. It is not the appropriate time, and there isn’t sufficient time to do it.”

While Sternberg had wanted a town hall-style meeting to explain the whirlwind changes at UW, including the task force, Easton told the crowd he wanted a trial-like format in which he and Sternberg would make statements and rebuttals. Easton said that at the conclusion of the trial-like meeting, students could make individual decisions about who they think is right.

Easton, Sternberg and audience members debated for about 10 minutes over which format should be used.

Sternberg’s town hall proposal ultimately won out, with a promise that he would return for a trial-like format.

Task Force

Shortly after moving to Wyoming, Sternberg began traveling around the state and meeting with people. He began to hear critiques of the law school.

“I know you want me to be straight and I’ll be straight,” he said, explaining that people told him that UW’s law school used to be top in the country in energy, natural resources, water and environmental law.

“Some people said we are not at the top,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s true.”

The task force will look at that, he said.

Students bristled over the task force, worried that the end result could be an emphasis on energy and environmental law at the expense of other types of law.

“We can’t spend the amount of money that we spend on a legal education to graduate and can’t — because of any changes that were made — become a prosecutor or become a defense attorney or focus in family law because our education was too focused on supporting the energy industry," said second-year student Baend Buus.

Sternberg told students that the task force will not mandate changes but suggest them. It will be up to the dean to implement them.

UW history professor Phil Roberts said the task force may be meeting too early. The law school is in the middle of an accreditation review with the American Bar Association.

“I find it curious there’s a task force being put together before the accreditation report comes in with the possible areas where we can do better and the possible areas where we’re doing OK,” he said, to applause.

After the meeting

Students stayed in the meeting for about 15 minutes after Sternberg and McGinity left. Sternberg and McGinity said they had other previously scheduled appointments. Students asked Easton to explain what he wanted to say to the president. Easton remained silent, saying it was best to make accusations when Sternberg was present.

“I don’t want people to rely upon my conclusions and opinions,” he said. “I will tell them when we have this meeting. If we have it, the president promised we would have it.”

Easton encouraged students to contact Sternberg’s scheduler to arrange for the trial-like format. By the end of business Friday, Jacquelyn Bridgeman, the interim dean of the law school, said she contacted Sternberg’s scheduler and they’re working on a time next week, possibly Tuesday.

During the meeting students had noted that many UW trustees work in energy, and the task force chairman is a Cheyenne attorney who practices energy and natural resources law.

That attorney is Larry Wolfe, who said he’s passionate about legal education. He said while his practice involves energy cases, it is diverse. He said students shouldn’t be worried that a study of energy law would hurt other areas of the law school. A good energy attorney needs a strong general legal education.

After the meeting, Sternberg told the Star-Tribune that task force members will include the law school dean, associate dean, faculty, students, attorneys from different specializations and state legislators who are attorneys.

The task force won’t necessarily be focused on energy.

“If they want to look at other things, they’ll look at other things,” he said.

But after the meeting ended, some students and alumni said they are skeptical of the UW president and his intentions for the law school.

“I think there’s chaos in the university,” said Ray Hunkins of Cheyenne, who graduated from the law college in the 1960s. “There’s chaos in the college."

Reach state reporter Laura Hancock at 307-266-0581 or at Follow her on Twitter: @laurahancock.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(17) Comments

  1. UW Student
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    UW Student - November 13, 2013 7:02 pm
    I think the writer of the article accidentally omitted the very important word "school." The task force was organized to look at the law school - not a law.
  2. UW Student
    Report Abuse
    UW Student - November 13, 2013 6:52 pm
    When the task force was initially made public it absolutely looked like people outside the law school would be making decisions and that the law school would not be represented. Sternberg refused to meet with Easton for a period of several weeks after announcing the task force. Easton tried repeatedly to meet with Sternberg either in person or via phone. Larry Wolfe was put in charge of the task force and no one communicated with the law school faculty about the task force or the process for choosing members of the task force until Easton resigned in protest.
  3. MedicineBow
    Report Abuse
    MedicineBow - November 12, 2013 4:56 pm
    No one has even remotely suggested that A) anyone other than the law school will be making decisions, or B) that the law school will not be represented on the committee.
  4. AustinBrister
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    AustinBrister - November 12, 2013 1:04 pm
    Just to respond to a small, perhaps trivial point, the law school already pumps out more attorneys than the state of wyoming needs. Not sure if the slow growth of the college of law is indicative of anything negative. I'd even advocate that it should graduate slightly fewer attorneys.
  5. AustinBrister
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    AustinBrister - November 12, 2013 1:02 pm
    Couldn't agree more. The article says they will "take a look at the law." What? No one is looking at the law...
  6. AustinBrister
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    AustinBrister - November 12, 2013 1:01 pm
    Except Easton is actually somewhat new... and this isn't an evaluation.. This is no different than non-medical people making decisions about how a medical school should teach medicine. It makes no sense not to get the input of freakin' doctors! Well same here, it makes no sense not to get input from the law school.... As a currently-practicing UW Law graduate, I'm fairly certain the ABA (whose accreditation is required for graduates to become licensed attorneys) will not be a single bit happy with the fact that school decisions are made by non-attorneys.
  7. AustinBrister
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    AustinBrister - November 12, 2013 12:57 pm
    Except for no one is debating the law...
  8. AustinBrister
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    AustinBrister - November 12, 2013 12:57 pm
    "Easton resigned last week as dean of the College of Law because he said no one sought his input on task force being assembled to look at the law." To look at what law? I don't recall anyone ever suggesting that a law was at issue.
  9. Bearhead
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    Bearhead - November 10, 2013 2:27 pm
    Just finished watching a video of this confrontation. The sequence of questions before and after Mr. Easton stood up made this whole affair look choreographed.

    As a graduate of UW, I have concerns about Mr. Sterrnberg's actions since he took office. However, the video of Mr. Eaton's "fit" made me lose all respect for any grievances that he has.
  10. Strider
    Report Abuse
    Strider - November 09, 2013 8:07 pm
    It sounds like these long-entrenched faculty members aren't used to having a boss that conducts serious evaluations of their performance. They should get over it. The university president is their boss. The petulant law professors don't get to put him and his agenda on "trial."
  11. Jackalope
    Report Abuse
    Jackalope - November 09, 2013 5:02 pm
    As the saying goes, "Timing is everything. In this case poor timing appears to have added confusion to the chaos.... time after time.
    P.S. I hope no one at the university has to take responsibility for the grammar and spelling on these pages.
  12. Kool Kat
    Report Abuse
    Kool Kat - November 09, 2013 4:05 pm
    I'll take that under advisement WyoGirl04.
    In the meantime, I stand on my comment regarding CSA's report.
    As Shyatt and Christensen give Poke fans hope, the school does not.
  13. WyoGirl04
    Report Abuse
    WyoGirl04 - November 09, 2013 3:58 pm
    Kool Kat I think you need to take a break from stalking the comments. You are quick to respond to everything but you support your responses with no basis. It's a gorgeous day, go enjoy it. Maybe watch some Wyoming football because your tax dollars just paid for a $35,000 study so hopefully it was worth the cost!! Especially because the study stated Coach Christiansen was a plus for our coaching staff.
  14. Kool Kat
    Report Abuse
    Kool Kat - November 09, 2013 12:18 pm
    ummm WyoGirl04, in case anyone hasn't given you the "memo", the Trustees and University of Wyoming President Bob Sternberg agreed to investigate the school's current status. What was reported by the CSA was, for a lack of better word - alarming.
    You see, its not the leaders at will that dictate the direction and directives of the University of Wyoming. But the people of Wyoming it serves and the State of Wyoming through its electorate that antes up lots of money for the school's solvency.

    University of Wyoming President Bob Sternberg obviously seen many discretionary actions without consultation that the trustees agreed to the investigative necessities. And in this case here, University of Wyoming President Bob Sternberg called is a special investigative team to research the school's inter-makings.
    Short of stunning everyone, excluding "most" Wyoming fans, the powers-to-be could not see this coming due to their own apparent arrogance. But the CSA has exposed what Wyoming voters, tax payers and fans had suspected for a very long time. A stunted growth in a University that shows itself through collegiate athletics.

    The rest of your alarmist declaration does nothing for anyone cause, the Wyoming tax payer always antes up for student's behalf. This is another reason why University of Wyoming President Bob Sternberg had to investigate why costs rise but graduates rates lessen every year.
    Somehow, the school has always depended on the Wyoming tax base to pay for this school's growing costs due to the "good enough" mentality. A mentality that costs Wyoming's tax payers cause the school demands, without reaching a goal to grow the school.
    Don't forget, the school sells its time and classes to the customer/student, and neglectful faculty costs the Wyoming tax base, dearly.
  15. WyoGirl04
    Report Abuse
    WyoGirl04 - November 09, 2013 11:08 am

    Watch the Town Hall Meeting yourself and make a decision. If Sternberg were not hiding something he would have allowed the Dean to discuss events leading up to his resignation. Sternberg admitted he did not discuss items with the Dean. He also admitted to not discussing an advisory task force with the Advisory Committees and Boards already in place through the Wyoming State Bar. I was hoping this would be the man to create change at UW, but instead he creates chaos and then has only his five talking points his little sidekick and PR team came up with for him. If he were not hiding something and he has not been unethical he would have allowed the Dean to give his side of the story. Kudos to the student who said I have no preconceived notions I just want to know both sides and make an informed decision. Also, Sternberg next time do not interrupt a well-respected member of the Wyoming State Bar, and let him speak because he has as much a stake in the College of Law as anyone else. I guess it will be another time and place to hear the whole story and see how Sternberg spins it this time.

    Also, everyone should check out the Branding Iron. I never read the student paper until now, they report both sides and are objective in reporting. There is a problem when the President won't even return a call to the ASUW President to discuss tuition hikes so the student president can discuss the matter with the students, those who have the most stake in the University at this time. Plus the ones who will market the University after they are gone.
  16. Kool Kat
    Report Abuse
    Kool Kat - November 09, 2013 7:21 am
    Oh, was Dean Stephen Easton asked to resign? As the story reads, "Since then, the provost, three associate provosts and four deans have resigned. Sternberg explained to students that some were asked to resign."
    Kudos to University of Wyoming President Bob Sternberg for replacing to repair out of jointed department heads. Many Wyomingites have full well known that, the University of Wyoming's Student Body has not grown.

    Either in size with its Graduates. from its entry level student. Meaning the University of Wyoming seems to not seek higher level educated students seeking degrees from those that just attend til drop out.
    According to stats, the University of Wyoming has not grown since the early 1980s in student body nor graduation level. And it shows, with its continued need for subsidies from self-reliance as a growing and expanding school.

    But you can't fault the Deans and Provosts, as they have been happily teaching and offering classes to keep their jobs through the years. And with the many tentacles of misinformation of how Deans, Provosts are needed at University of Wyoming. The average tax payer and voter took them at their word.
    What has been bizarre about the last thirty years or more is, not one University of Wyoming President had bothered to question these Department leader's presence. Until University of Wyoming President Bob Sternberg decided to do the real job of the University of Wyoming President.

    The attitude of good enough is good enough was spotted literally easy enough by the CSA report and just by talking to unsuspecting University of Wyoming Leaders. The University of Wyoming President Bob Sternberg had to ask for resignations and account from other that resigned.
    That stirring up we hear from Laramie is the same disgust Cowboy fans have felt for years just traveling into Laramie to support our Cowboys and Cowgirls. You can literally feel the selfishness and "who gives a care" persona that comes from the UW and Laramie these days.

    And when athletes are effected by this attitude, you see under performing teams and wild swing seasons as witnesses lately. But judging from the protests and those shouting at University of Wyoming President Bob Sternberg, they still don't get it.
  17. thehousemouse
    Report Abuse
    thehousemouse - November 09, 2013 6:47 am
    this auto be good. lawyers debating over law. is it open to the public?
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