LARAMIE — It began as a traditional State of the University address that lauded accomplishments at the University of Wyoming. It concluded with UW President Tom Buchanan announcing his retirement late Thursday afternoon.
“I will retire from the position of president about this time next year, at the end of next summer, and I want you to know that it has been my honor and my privilege to serve the campus community, and it really is a community,” he said. “It has been an amazing run.”
“Thank you, and good afternoon,” he said to a standing ovation from faculty and staff members.
And just like that, he walked off the stage.
Buchanan declined to stay for a reception for faculty and staff members. He also declined to answer news reporters’ questions.
The announcement came as a shock to many in the room.
UW Faculty Senate President Michael Barker said he spent the entire day with Buchanan and didn’t have an inkling that the president was going to retire until he walked into the Wyoming Union for the address and heard a rumor.
“Certainly it is a loss,” Barker said. “He has led our ship for a long time, very, very well.”
Buchanan, 61, became president in 2005.
In his seven years, some of the school’s most prestigious and high-profile programs were created: the School of Energy Resources, the Hathaway Scholarship Program and a supercomputer partnership under way with the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
Throughout the speech, Buchanan dropped hints about his retirement. He praised Provost Myron Allen.
“... Whenever I leave the campus, I know that Myron will run the university at least as well and usually better than I,” he said.
After the address, UW officials said that they had no succession plan in place.
Buchanan discussed a list of accomplishments that he wanted for UW, such as the energy school and Hathaway scholarships.
With the completion of upcoming projects, “my list will be all but complete.”
Joel Defebaugh is president of the Associated Students of the University of Wyoming. He said Buchanan’s face was familiar to many students on campus.
“I think it comes as a shock to everyone on campus,” he said.
Buchanan introduces himself at freshman orientations. He attends UW football games. He hosts luncheons with students.
“President Buchanan and his vice presidents have done a phenomenal job delivering on academics, student affairs, safety and security and athletics,” Defebaugh said.
The school has obtained national accolades, Defebaugh said.
The next president, he said, will have to make UW competitive worldwide.
Defebaugh would like “a president who can lead that charge while preserving the culture and traditions on campus.”
Buchanan was also popular among faculty.
After all, he rose among their ranks, having started at UW as a geography professor in 1979.
Barker, the Faculty Senate president who is also a professor in civil and architectural engineering, said the next president needs to have “Wyoming values,” which he defined as being down-to-earth and honest, having integrity and good character and striving for the best.
Barker wants someone with “true passion for undergraduate education, working with industries in the state.”
A handful of times throughout his time as president, Buchanan faced pressure from the energy industry, which donates money to UW, and conservative forces in the Wyoming Legislature about activities on campus.
Last year, an artist installed a piece that was critical of the coal industry and global warming. Before that, academic Bill Ayres, who began a 1960s radical group and was loosely associated with President Barack Obama, was brought to campus by order of a judge after controversy about him speaking in Laramie got him disinvited.
“Wyoming has always had a solid footing for academic freedom, pursuit for excellence and responding to meet the needs of the state and nation, and working well with high schools, junior colleges and parents and legislators,” Barker said.
Buchanan told Dave Bostrom, president of the UW Board of Trustees, on Sunday morning that he was going to retire. The two were flying back to Wyoming from Austin, Texas, where they had traveled to watch the Cowboys play the University of Texas.
“Tom is a thoughtful individual and decided the time was now for us to do an orderly search,” Bostrom said.
That search has not yet begun.
Trustees at most universities appoint an interim president while they search nationally for a replacement, which can take a year.
At UW, none of that has been decided — whether there will be an interim, whether the search will be national or how long to search.
“The board has not defined the search process,” Bostrom said.
The next trustees meeting is in November, and search plans will be discussed then, he said.
Bostrom said the trustees have discussed retirement with Buchanan over the past couple of years. His latest contract, signed last year, provided Buchanan access to his university vehicle after retirement and the opportunity to return to teaching.
Those provisions are not unusual with college presidents, Bostrom said.
Buchanan has not publicly stated whether he wants to retire permanently or return to teaching.