Concerned about potential industry influence, Wyoming law students denounce college review

2013-11-04T15:00:00Z 2013-11-14T20:20:07Z Concerned about potential industry influence, Wyoming law students denounce college reviewBy LEAH TODD Star Tribune staff writer Casper Star-Tribune Online
November 04, 2013 3:00 pm  • 

A contingent of law students at the University of Wyoming wrote to university leadership today to decry a recent administrative decision to assemble a task force to review the college of law. The move comes four days after their dean, Stephen Easton, resigned amid the impending scrutiny of his department.

In a letter to UW President Robert Sternberg and the university's Board of Trustees, the students question why Sternberg decided to focus his review primarily on natural resources law, why they were not aware of the task force prior to Easton's resignation, and why the university did not wait to initiate the task force until the results of a recent American Bar Association accreditation review were finalized.

Sternberg has said the task force would be strictly advisory, and would evaluate how UW serves the state in specific areas including energy, natural resources, water and environmental law. 

Students are concerned the increased focus on energy-related areas of law marks a misguided initiative driven by outside influence from the energy industry.

"While energy and natural resources focused courses are important for students wishing to pursue careers in those fields, they are not the sole focus or interest of all, or even most, students at the College of Law," the students wrote. "The College of Law is the only law school in Wyoming, and as such is responsible for providing the necessary education to future lawyers so they can competently represent the people of Wyoming in all areas of the law."

Third-year law student Grant Smith, one of the authors of the letter, said his motivation for writing was the lack of dialogue between leadership and the College of Law regarding the task force's review.

Smith said he did not know Sternberg was planning a task force to review the college until a university press release announcing Easton's resignation mentioned the initiative Thursday.

"There had been rumors [of a task force], but nothing was substantiated," Grant said. "I think the resignation really caught us by surprise."

UW President Robert Sternberg's decision to put together a task force to evaluate the college stemmed from feedback he heard during his travels around the state, he told the Star-Tribune last week. Enough stakeholders commented that the college of law was not what it used to be, Sternberg said, that he felt a review was warranted. He envisions the task force as strictly advisory, and says he hopes to include people from Wyoming and regional legal communities, the UW Faculty Senate, the UW College of Law and elsewhere.

UW Public Relations Director Chad Baldwin said studying the university's energy-related areas of law did not mean private industry was dictating the college of law's curriculum, as students alleged in the letter.

"As with all aspects of the university, one of our primary missions is to produce graduates who can contribute to the state and fill our workforce needs," Baldwin said. But any increased emphasis on energy-related areas of law would not reduce the college's course offerings in any other area of law, he said.

"Private industry has not and will not dictate the curriculum at the College of Law," he said.

 

Check back for more on this developing story.

Reach education reporter Leah Todd at 307-266-0592 or leah.todd@trib.com. Follow her on Twitter @leahktodd.

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

(25) Comments

  1. Wyoming MD
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    Wyoming MD - November 11, 2013 7:45 am
    "UW Public Relations Director Chad Baldwin said studying the university's energy-related areas of law did not mean private industry was dictating the college of law's curriculum, as students alleged in the letter."

    Hmm, given that the University is already part of the Company Store, and under censorship by its political lackeys, trying to deny the obvious simply makes this guy seem dishonest.
  2. thehousemouse
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    thehousemouse - November 07, 2013 8:17 pm
    we are under atack in wyoming with all our natural resourses. This is the point. gain control over them and you rule the state. enough of that. but you are the next generation and you need to take over for us tied old folks. Nice to see a wake up call yes in deed. ask questions, make your claims and stand and fight for what you believe wyoming is really about. after last night and our county commissioner hendry sucking up all the lime light with fracking water, sorry i dont want it to touch my land for three headed cows is not in my idea of what i want to see or deal with let alone rape our underground water. time to rain these boys in dont you think. seems to me that man is making millions off his position and inside information.
  3. Kool Kat
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    Kool Kat - November 06, 2013 12:14 pm
    While I appreciate Jackson's comment. according to the report, I do know that CSA found problems within the school's student body and Departments. And yes, the school and faculty using the tax paying public support seems to be "short-changing" the tax base and Sports fans.
    I don't seer this as rocket science but, a changing and evolving "Training and Learning" center that offers recreation for both on and off campus sports fans. But right now, as witnessed by the professionals, athletics has been so abuse and neglected from lack of support that, some can care less with those activities outside of the Athletic Dept.
    University of Wyoming does not belong to those within the University's corridors but, the tax base itself. The University of Wyoming is not just schooling facility but, entertainment for those that do not attend but pay taxes.
    By the way, to my understanding, (former) Dean Easton is still a part of the University of Wyoming. Just not the Dean {by choice} any longer. And if I read and was told in error, please correct me?
  4. Wilderness
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    Wilderness - November 06, 2013 10:28 am
    No, you're not reading me right. Citizens of WY should be asking questions also, if they have them. About all things related to governance in WY, including administrative and programmatic decisions made at UW.
  5. Jackson
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    Jackson - November 05, 2013 11:56 am
    Am I reading your right? The students are right on with their questions and rights, because of all the skin they have in the game. Yet it seems that you imply taxpayer's, have less skin in the game, and their rights to also ask questions about accountability and strategic planning and action, are somehow subordinated to student and faculty rights. I certainly take major exception to anything close to that line of thinking. Taxpayer's and society in general have the most skin in the game, and I applaud anyone who has the will to openly look at what is happening and why? Education is mostly a touchy-feely group, and prefers to want to perpetuate the status quo. But that doesn't mean the rest of us have to settle for the same. Hear everyone's story, but then develop an action plan.
  6. pappy
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    pappy - November 05, 2013 9:02 am
    Actually the Wyoming's constitution, Article 7 section 16, requires that tuition be as "nearly free as possibible." The student at UW have been pretty generous in accepting raises in tuition based on the constitution.
  7. Wilderness
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    Wilderness - November 05, 2013 8:30 am
    Not quite sure where you come up with a few of your ideas. No faculty member I know about at UW has a seven-month appointment - traditionally they're nine-month or twelve-month appointments, and I suspect his salary is negligibly competitive with comparable law school faculty at land-grant universities.

    The students are right on the mark to question the administrative, curricular, and governance decisions made at their school. They have the most skin in the game - through tuition and fees (plus the same sales and use taxes you pay) they contribute more to the operation of the school than anybody else in Wyoming, and the decisions made about how the school operates affect them directly and permanently. Clearly they GOT the life lesson that being engaged involved citizens and consumers is important in this country, and this type of thinking (courteously and diplomatically requesting some accountability), questioning of authority, and professional and academic curiosity will serve them well as attorneys later in life. I suspect they'll have no trouble finding positions in Wyoming - the majority of Wyoming attorneys (and UW grads) I've seen post online are asking the same questions about their alma mater.
  8. CareyMitchell
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    CareyMitchell - November 04, 2013 11:26 pm
    If Dean Easton's resignation (not really, he's still keeping a $150k for 7 months of work per year job) was insolent, then these students are just dolts. Wyoming lawyers should not to hire any of them, unless they want to let them pick their own salary, do their own performance reviews and tell clients what to think. Clearly they missed the life lesson of not telling their boss' boss' boss' boss how to do his job.
  9. Jackalope
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    Jackalope - November 04, 2013 8:29 pm
    Is this what you have been catawauling about all over the place? http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011/violent-crime/violent-crime
    Read it.
  10. Kool Kat
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    Kool Kat - November 04, 2013 6:37 pm
    whatever, thanks for making it clear with me that my comments really bother you.
    At least your honest with me on that. :)
  11. whatever
    Report Abuse
    whatever - November 04, 2013 5:49 pm
    Kook Kat, perhaps you should give it a rest. your asinine line of reasoning merits no response and your repeated references to something that was posted on an unrelated thread is hardly staying on topic.
    Have you noticed that a wide variety of posters have pointed out to you your tortured syntax, misplaced punctuation, utter lack of factual information and inability to follow a coherent line of reasoning?
    Have you noticed that the common denominator in all these exchanges is you?
  12. Kool Kat
    Report Abuse
    Kool Kat - November 04, 2013 4:20 pm
    This was your reference - not mine, I'm still waiting on your research, proving your point, if you had one? And if you continue "not" to give me the data of proof if your point? I'll consider your posts as nothing but bloviant, unsubstantiated claims.

    In refreshing your memory: http://trib.com/opinion/letters/gop-blocks-rational-gun-control-talk/article_09e03937-ad42-5cf0-9695-3e519691ed49.html
    Post: Kool Kat - October 29, 2013 9:40 pm (was my request to your point)

    Either back up what you claim or quit throwing out half of an FBI report.
    Its your choice! Either start doing your research before making your anti-gun claims or back it up, if you dare to fling it?

    I'm still waiting!
  13. Pops
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    Pops - November 04, 2013 3:24 pm
    No process. No voice. Self examination? No law School.
  14. Jackalope
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    Jackalope - November 04, 2013 3:09 pm
    When you read the FBI statistics for the first time.......but why would anyone want to interrupt the flow of facts that are washing over your barnyard substance.
  15. Kool Kat
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    Kool Kat - November 04, 2013 2:24 pm
    Very well put, regarding an "only child University".
    Self examines could help its growth in more studies and enrollment.
  16. Kool Kat
    Report Abuse
    Kool Kat - November 04, 2013 2:22 pm
    Jack, have you finished your FBI research, or are you on break during this response?
  17. Kool Kat
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    Kool Kat - November 04, 2013 2:20 pm
    No, I named no one nor accused anyone of writing this.
    It is apparent that the University of Wyoming has never examined itself. I'm waiting in anticipation, the results.
  18. Kool Kat
    Report Abuse
    Kool Kat - November 04, 2013 2:18 pm
    I'm still looking for that "complete" FBI report you referred to.
    I'm still waiting.
  19. Kool Kat
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    Kool Kat - November 04, 2013 2:18 pm
    Ok wyotruth, I will assume you're correct.
    Now since you know so much. Why hasn't the University of Wyoming Student Body Population grown over the last 30 plus years? That is the meat of this investigation.
    Why hasn't the Wyoming Athletic Programs become more competitive all the while exposing the school?

    I don't know about these things, but at your suggestive response, you do.
  20. Jackalope
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    Jackalope - November 04, 2013 1:41 pm
    Amen.
  21. Jackalope
    Report Abuse
    Jackalope - November 04, 2013 1:39 pm
    Do not confuse Kool with reasoned arguments and facts. He is an advocate of "open forum" with appropriate knees, elbows, ex-lax, creative facts, and famously mangled English language. I doubt seriously that he is trying to prove that there are crazy people who are not mentally ill, but he presents a very believable substitute. On the other hand, I am impressed with the facts and documentation that you have presented for him to distort, ignore, or sidestep. A cogent argument based on evidence is hard to find around this subject.
  22. Jackson
    Report Abuse
    Jackson - November 04, 2013 12:55 pm
    Dr. Sternberg is certainly somewhat vulnerable to criticism on his communication tact. Having said that, I am very supportive of program and strategic reviews at UW to find out be the best it can be. In essence, UW has no in state competition to drive it to be better, so good reviews are the next best way. So far, most of the vocal reactions to the reviews have been whining about style, not about substance. Taxpayer's want to know they are getting something for their buck, too. So, listen to the Easton types, too, but only deal with realities.
  23. gopokes2015
    Report Abuse
    gopokes2015 - November 04, 2013 12:36 pm
    @ Kool Kat: *I will dispel your assumption that I am one of the law students who wrote the open letter or signed it. I am neither.

    First, I highly encourage you to look at the Wyoming Constitution and the fact that the University of Wyoming is a land grant institution. These factors necessarily require the Wyoming government to fund the university. I would also encourage you to contact the University of Wyoming Foundation and discover that of the millions of dollars appropriated to the University of the last ten years, less than 1% was given to the law school.

    Second, in regard to you statement about enrollment, I direct you here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/31/education/law-schools-applications-fall-as-costs-rise-and-jobs-are-cut.html?_r=0. As you can see, nationwide law school enrollment is down by nearly 50%. The fact that UW College of Law has maintained a steady number of students amidst the declining numbers nationwide is a testament to the institution and the administration running it. Furthermore, while other schools are bleeding faculty due to low enrollments (http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887323664204578607810292433272) UW College of Law has not lost a single faculty from a lack of funding.

    In regard to your criticism of law professor's "exorbitant" salaries, I encourage you to email President Sternberg at robert.sternberg@uwyo.edu and ask how much the salaries of the proposed 7 new oil and gas professors will be.
  24. wyotruth
    Report Abuse
    wyotruth - November 04, 2013 12:25 pm
    Your lack of knowledge about UW and why the law students are so upset is quite evident, but for those ignorant of the university I will explain why the law students are right on and Kool Kat has very little idea of what he/she is discussing.
    1. You complain about public subsidies. It is a PUBLIC institution. In fact, it is Wyoming's only 4 year PUBLIC institution. UW could charge $50,000 a year in tuition like PRIVATE colleges and then it would not need subsidies. But it is a PUBLIC institution designed to be accessible to all students no matter their family's income.
    2. You complain about salaries. UW professors are paid less than their colleagues at most other PUBLIC universities. UW is losing good people because they can be paid more elsewhere. UW does not operate in a vacuum, and they need to raise salaries to stay competitive.
    3. UW Athletics - Although most residents of the Cowboy State wish the football team competed for the BS title every year and made the Final Four in Men's and Women's basketball, most of us with any savvy know the reasons this is an unrealistic expectation. Dr. Sternberg just threw away $35,000 on something most of us could have told him for for a dollar.
    4. You complain again about government handouts (again), and again I say it is a PUBLIC university.
    5. You talk about increased enrollment numbers at the College of Law. Law School admissions are down sharply across the country. UW has been able to hold the line on admissions, so we should be congratulating Dean Easton instead of chastising him.
    6. You believe that UW has never reviewed itself. That is false. It conducts regular strategic plans and reviews of these plans. Academic planning and reviews are just a part of this. Here is a link to the latest effort from Academic Affairs that is easily accessible from UW's website. http://www.uwyo.edu/acadaffairs/plans/14-20/up4_position_paper_2.pdf.
  25. Kool Kat
    Report Abuse
    Kool Kat - November 04, 2013 11:13 am
    To the law student's, what makes your department more special than others? I don't believe Wyoming has ever "reviewed itself" for improvement reasons. Results: University of Wyoming Student Body Population in 1983 - {estimated} 13,992 - - - fast forward to 2013.
    University of Wyoming Student Body Population in 2013 - March 2013 - 12,873 - - expect to hit 14,000 by end of spring 2013, hmm. Notice a fluctuation of around 1,000 student in the last 30 years. That would tell the tax payers of Wyoming that public subsidies are still necessary due to the lack of growth.
    What it amounts to in part is, Department heads and Professors/instructors collect exorbitant salaries but, do little else to foster a growing enrollment. But don't feel bad, as the Wyoming Athletic Department is under the same scrutiny.
    I'd say when the University of Wyoming Student Body Population is at the right number count? The school should be sufficient enough to administer it's own financial needs, rather than requiring more government hand outs than the school receives now.
    It really is a tough pill to swallow but, if Mr Easton could have shown modest 5% and 10% increases in enrollment annually? I would doubt the scrutiny of a review would had taken place, at least not without initial consultation.
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