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A person walks up the stairs to the University of Wyoming student union on April 19 in Laramie. The university has named a panel to assist in choosing the university's next president.

Former Gov. Matt Mead and former state Auditor Rita Meyer are among 16 people tasked with helping to select the University of Wyoming’s next president.

The school announced the members of the committee Wednesday. They include members of the university’s board of trustees, faculty, students and staff. Joining them from the private sector are an electrical utility executive, an oil and gas industry worker, and a recently retired corporate CEO.

The committee will search for a permanent replacement for former President Laurie Nichols, whom the university demoted without explanation earlier this year. Nichols later left the school to become interim president of Black Hills State University in South Dakota.

Former board of trustees President John MacPherson of Saratoga will serve as chairman of the search committee. Other members include:

  • Mead, Wyoming’s former two-term governor;
  • Meyer, who served as auditor from 2007-2010;
  • Megan Degenfelder, who served as Associated Students of UW president in 2011-12 and now works for Southland Royalty Co. in Cheyenne, after leaving a posting at the state Department of Education recently;
  • Doug Stark, a Riverton native, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources alumnus and recently retired CEO of Farm Credit Services of America;
  • current trustees Jeff Marsh of Torrington, Macey Moore of Douglas and Laura Schmid-Pizzato of Rock Springs;
  • current ASUW President Jason Wilkins;
  • law Professor Ken Chestek, who chairs the Faculty Senate;
  • Staff Senate President James Wheeler, a project coordinator in the Division of Student Affairs;
  • 2018-19 ASUW President Alex Mulhall;
  • UW employees Anne Alexander, associate vice provost for undergraduate education; visual and literary arts Professor Alyson Hagy; Associate Professor Matthew Painter, of the Department of Criminal Justice and Sociology; and Laura Shevling, senior director of financial systems and business optimization.

“I appreciate the willingness of these outstanding individuals to contribute to the selection of our next university president,” board chairman Dave True said in a statement. “Their work will be essential for us to conduct a successful search and select an excellent individual to be our long-term president.”

Finding candidates

According to the university, the search committee will forward 12 qualified candidates to the board of trustees. The board will have the option to add other candidates that weren’t advanced by the committee but won’t be able to do so for any candidates specifically rejected by the committee.

UW’s board will use a consulting firm to aid in the search and will also bring in a search recruiter.

Neil Theobald is serving as the university’s interim president. He’s not barred from applying for the permanent job. He previously served as the president of Temple University in Philadelphia before coming to Wyoming in July 2018 to take over as vice president of finance and administration.

True told the Star-Tribune earlier this week that there was a “soft target” of having a new president in place by July 1, when Theobald’s interim contract runs out and when UW’s fiscal year begins. But he otherwise declined to put a timeline on the committee’s work, other than to say he hoped the university’s trustees would have a list of semifinalists in a few months.

The university will host two listening sessions sometime in the fall, True said, along with another session somewhere else in the state.

After the trustees receive the list of 12 candidates, they will then select finalists from that group. At that point, the names of the final candidates will be released publicly, and the applicants will be brought to campus.

Uncertainty at the top

The committee will search for the university’s fifth permanent president in seven years. Those years have included one confidential search, which ended with the disastrous hiring of Bob Sternberg, who lasted a little more than four months, and one public search, which brought Nichols to campus for three years.

Her tenure ended on June 30, wrapped in silence from the board and in professed ignorance by Nichols. Many on campus criticized the decision and the lack of information about it, and roughly a dozen people who spoke to the Star-Tribune in April warned of a looming period of uncertainty in the wake of the Nichols decision.

Those people — staff, faculty, former trustees and Wyoming residents — called for a transparent search process, closer to the Nichols search than the Sternberg secrecy.

The process as announced appears to have satisfied leaders on campus. Chestek told the Star-Tribune earlier this week that he was encouraged by the process and hoped to see multiple faculty members involved. With three faculty members on the committee, including Chestek himself, it appears he got his wish.

“We need an open and transparent search process involving faculty,” Chestek told the Star-Tribune in April. “The reason we got the mess we had with Sternberg is because it was a closed process. I think the trustees have learned that doesn’t work.”

Also speaking earlier this week before the list was released, UW student body president Wilkins was similarly confident in the search and said he was pleased that students would be included in the process.

He’s joined on the committee by his predecessor, Mulhall. Representatives from UW’s student government previously proposed two resolutions related to Nichols’ departure. One praised her legacy at the university, while a second — sponsored by Wilkins — criticized the board as acting “in a manner inconsistent with the values” of the student government. The latter resolution was not adopted by the body.

The student government has raised transparency concerns in the wake of the Nichols decision. Mulhall — who, as ASUW president, was a nonvoting member of the board — was entitled to attend executive session meetings. But in March, a few days before the board informed Nichols that she would not continue as president, Mulhall was told she could not attend them, she previously told the Star-Tribune.

After he took over as president, Wilkins said he rejoined the meetings in the spring, which he took as a “good sign.” He told the Star-Tribune earlier this week that he was “very hopeful in the future of UW, and I am eager to see the search committee get to work.”

Follow education reporter Seth Klamann on Twitter @SethKlamann

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Education and Health Reporter

Seth Klamann joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 and covers education and health. A 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri and proud Kansas City native, Seth worked for newspapers in Milwaukee and Omaha before coming to Casper.

Editor

Joshua Wolfson joined the Star-Tribune in 2007, covering crime and health before taking over the arts section in 2013. He also served as managing editor before being named editor in June 2017. He lives in Casper with his wife and their two kids.

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